- The Washington Times
Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Breathless speculation of a shake-up has given way to the reality that next GOP debate will feature much the same lineup as the first: nine of the same top 10 will make the main stage, with Carly Fiorina bumping one of the sitting governors from the last spot.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is likely to be the odd man out, while Ms. Fiorina, former CEO at Hewlett-Packard, has cracked the glass ceiling and surged into the middle of the top tier, according to based on the latest polling which shows voters rewarding her for what was widely viewed as a win in the so-called “kiddie’s table” debate last time.

There has been some reshuffling within the top 10. Businessman Donald Trump continues to top the field and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush runs second, but retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has overtaken Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for third place, Sen. Marco Rubio has leapt to fifth, Ms. Fiorina is in seventh, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has fallen from the middle to 10th place, according to the latest average at RealClearPolitics.com.

“The only thing that’s shuffled is the middle of the deck,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center.

The next debate will be hosted by CNN, is slated for Sept. 16 and will be held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. Nancy Reagan, wife of the late president, has already issued invitations to 16 candidates, who will be divided once again into two tiers.

Unlike the first debate on Fox News, where the second tier faced off in the afternoon and the top tier in prime time, the CNN debates will run back-to-back — but most of the attention will still go to the top 10.

SEE ALSO: Donald Trump sits atop GOP field, outpaces Republicans on economy, immigration

One caveat is that CNN will use polls dating back to mid-July to determine places in the September debates, which means Ms. Fiorina’s surge will have to be big enough to overcome her lower showing from the first couple weeks of that period. The more polls that come out between then and now, the better her chances.

Mr. Christie’s campaign didn’t respond to a request seeking comment on his potential fall out of the top tier, but speaking on CNN Monday morning he acknowledged he has ground to make up, but warned against overreacting.

“You know, it’s time to take a deep breath, OK? We have a lot of work to do. Everybody is now working. What that poll tells you more than anything else is that this race is completely unsettled, that the American people and the Republican primary voters have not gotten anywhere near making a decision,” Mr. Christie said.

Nationally, two major polls have been taken since the Aug. 6 debate in Cleveland. Both of them show Ms. Fiorina climbing into the top 10, and Mr. Christie the likely victim for relegation to the second division.

State-based polls have likewise been bad for Mr. Christie and good for Ms. Fiorina.

Mr. Paleologos’s survey of Iowa caucus-goers, taken after the debate, found her in fifth place, tied with Sen. Ted Cruz.

“It was so dramatic, the turnaround for her in the Iowa poll,” he said.

Just as dramatic were the differences between debate-watchers and those who didn’t catch it. Mr. Trump enjoyed substantially better support among non-debate watchers than among watchers.

And very likely voters — those most determined to show up for the caucuses, which require more of a commitment of time and effort than regular primary voting — were also slightly less inclined to be Trump supporters, Mr. Paleologos said.

The pollster also said, however, that Mr. Trump is likely trying to identify less-determined caucus-goers and try to get them to turn out for him on caucus night. Mr. Paleologos said that could mean his support will be understated in polls, as the surveys turn to ever tighter screening to focus on those most likely to show up.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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