By STEVE PEOPLES
WASHINGTON (AP) — The first Republican presidential debate will feature no fewer than 10 candidates.
That’s according to guidelines released Wednesday by debate hosts Fox News and Facebook, which offer the first clues as to how the GOP will handle its largest presidential class in recent memory. Party officials have been working privately in recent weeks to prevent its first debate in August from becoming a nationally televised circus, while lesser-known candidates have been lobbying for access.
Only announced candidates will be allowed to participate, according to the new guidelines. Participation will be limited to those who “place in the top 10 of an average of the five most recent national polls, as recognized by Fox News.”
More than 10 candidates would be allowed on the debate stage in the event of a tie.
At least 15 high-profile contenders are expected to compete for a spot, a group likely to include eight current or former governors, four senators, two accomplished business executives and a renowned neurosurgeon.
There will be winners and losers under the new system.
The winners could include the likes of Donald Trump, a businessman and reality television star who has already launched a presidential exploratory committee. While some party officials were reluctant to grant him a spot on stage should he run, he has placed within the top 10 in most recent polls.
The losers could include statewide office holders who have struggled to gain national traction. Those on the bubble include former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and former technology executive Carly Fiorina, the only woman in the Republican field.
Their roads to the White House would be even steeper without the opportunity to stand out in a nationally televised debate.
Several candidates have lobbied Republican officials in recent weeks to consider creative options, including debate “heats” featuring seven or eight candidates at a time on consecutive nights.
CNN, which plans to hold a GOP debate in September, said Wednesday it will divide its event into two parts: one featuring the 10 highest-polling candidates, the other including “candidates who meet the minimum threshold of 1 percent in public polling but are ranked outside the top 10.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said, “We support and respect the decision CNN has made.”
For its August debate, Fox News also promised to provide “additional coverage and air time … to those candidates who do not place in the top 10,” according to Michael Clemente, the network’s executive vice president of news editorial.
There will be 12 GOP presidential debates between August and March, with the first scheduled for Aug. 6 in Cleveland. The moderators for the first meeting include Fox anchors Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace.
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