The stage could shrink for the second GOP primary debate

A mad dash for donors and a flurry of last-minute polls marked the days leading up to Wednesday’s GOP primary debate as candidates scrambled to reach the Republican National Committee’s thresholds to make the stage.

Making the next debate will be tougher — and two candidates on the stage Wednesday night are the ones feeling the squeeze.

Eight candidates participated in the first debate, but North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson could miss the second one, which is set for Sept. 27 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California.

The other six — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, South Carolina GOP Sen. Tim Scott, former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — appear to have already met the second debate requirements.

The GOP’s presidential front-runner, former President Donald Trump, also appeared to meet the first debate’s polling and fundraising thresholds, but he said he would not sign the pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee, another RNC debate requirement. Trump has also suggested he will not attend future debates.

The RNC raised the polling and donor thresholds for the second contest, requiring candidates to gather donations from at least 50,000 individual donors and register at 3% in either two national polls after Aug. 1, or in one national survey plus polls from two different early-voting states.

Burgum’s campaign has already announced hitting that donor threshold, but he has not yet met the polling threshold. And it’s not clear how much his performance Wednesday night boosted his campaign.

The governor grabbed more headlines before the debate, when his attendance was in question after injuring his Achilles tendon during a pickup basketball game. Burgum still stood for the two-hour debate, but he only spoke for around eight minutes.

Still, Burgum’s vast personal wealth could continue to fund a massive television ad campaign, which could boost his name recognition enough to meet the polling thresholds. That’s what he has done in several early-voting states so far, but he is still almost completely unknown nationally. Burgum has never registered at more than 1% in a national poll, per the FiveThirtyEight poll database.

Hutchinson, meanwhile, has not yet met either the donor or the polling thresholds for the September debate. He only spoke for around seven minutes Wednesday. And Hutchinson’s and Christie’s qualified commitments to the RNC’s pledge to support the GOP nominee could be a wild-card question for their future debate participation.

When the candidates were asked Wednesday night if they would still support Trump as the nominee if he is convicted of a crime, Hutchinson and Christie were the only two candidates who did not raise their hands in the affirmative.

Hutchinson has previously said that it is critical to make the debate stage, telling NBC News in a recent interview that participating in the first debate could help him and other candidates reach the thresholds for the second debate.

“It’s really important to be there,” he said.

The rest of the GOP field that did not make the first debate now faces an even more difficult task.

Businessman Perry Johnson, who decried the RNC’s evaluation of polls to determine who qualified for Wednesday’s debate, has said he has already garnered 50,000 donors, but he has not received more than 2% support in most polling so far.

Former Texas GOP Rep. Will Hurd and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez have also continued their campaigns despite missing the first debate. But Suarez had previously said that candidates who do not make the stage “shouldn’t be trying to take time and volume away from people that do.”

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