CNBC on Wednesday announced that—contrary to the public fears of the GOP’s perpetual also-rans—the network will indeed hold an undercard debate before next month’s main event in Colorado. But while the Rick Santorums and George Patakis of the Republican world can now breath easy, the still-crowded field’s midtier candidates are the ones with a reason to worry: There are no longer 10 guaranteed spots in the prime-time event.
Under the rules unveiled by the financial news network, any candidate who garners at least 1 percent in any single national poll pre-approved by CNBC will get an invite to one of the two debates on Oct. 28. To secure a spot in the main event, though, a candidate will need to average at least 2.5 percent in those same polls. In theory, that means the network could hand out more than the 11 top-tier invites that CNN did this month, though, the much more likely scenario is that the network hands out less than the 10 Fox News did in August. Either way, the candidates will have to earn their spot on the stage.
CNBC will use a relatively narrow set of polls—only those conducted by NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, CNN, and Bloomberg that are released between Sept. 17 and Oct. 21.
It’s obviously early but, to date, there have been four polls released that fit those requirements. In them, Rand Paul is at an average of 2.75 percent, Mike Huckabee is at 3.5 percent, and Chris Christie is at 3.75 percent.* Meanwhile, in the latest RealClearPolitics’ national average—which includes surveys from several polling outfits CNBC will exclude—Paul is at 2.3 percent, while Huckabee and Christie squeak in with 3.0 percent. Those men still have three weeks worth of polls to decide their respective fates, but things could come down to the wire for all of them.
Given the low bar CNBC set for the JV debate, though, the vast majority of the field can start booking their flights to Colorado. The only Republican candidates still running who did not check the required 1-percent box in at least one of the three qualifying polls were: Jim Gilmore, who missed out on the CNN undercard earlier this month, and Lindsey Graham, who won it.
*Correction Oct. 1, 2015: An earlier version of this post did not include a fourth poll that will be used by CNBC, and as a result originally misstated Paul’s, Huckabee’s, and Christie’s current averages.