Chris Christie on brink of missing next debate

The RNC’s rules say candidates must hit at least 6 percent in polls that meet the committee’s requirements. They can use either two national surveys or one national survey plus polls from two separate early nominating states to meet that threshold. Only three candidates have the RNC’s requirements for the debate, according to POLITICO’s tracking of the process: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and businessperson Vivek Ramaswamy. Trump, who would easily meet the polling threshold, is skipping the debates.

Christie has only two qualifying polls in New Hampshire in which he has reached or exceeded 6 percent, according to POLITICO’s analysis. Because they came from the same early state, Christie still needs to hit 6 percent in two national polls or one national poll and a poll from either Iowa, Nevada or South Carolina by early next week.

Christie faces long odds to get those qualifying polls. The RealClearPolitics average of national polls puts Christie at 2.2 percent, far shy of the 6 percent threshold. He’s also at 4 percent in Iowa and 3 percent in South Carolina. (There are so few polls from Nevada that the website has not calculated an average.)

Christie’s campaign, citing polls that don’t appear to meet the RNC’s requirements and saying he is “well over” the 80,000-donor threshold, is confident the former governor will be on the debate stage. His advisers are planning his schedule for next week around being in Tuscaloosa.

“We believe we’ve made the stage, but you don’t know it until you get it confirmed on Monday,” Christie told POLITICO outside a Concord restaurant where he headlined a town hall on Thursday.

Asked what happens if he doesn’t make the debate, Christie said: “I’m going to make it. So why would I even talk about that?”

But Christie could face a hard choice if he doesn’t. He said before the first debate in August that candidates who don’t make the stage should get out of the race. And Christie is already facing questions about doing exactly that. On Thursday, one town hall attendee asked Christie which candidate he would consider backing if he ended his campaign.

“I’m not considering dropping out,” Christie replied.

Christie currently sits in third place, on average, in polls of likely Granite State GOP primary voters. Support for the former New Jersey governor has been rising in recent surveys, but he’s still only registering in the low double-digits. He remains behind Haley, in second place, and far behind Trump.

On the heels of those polls, which also showed support for DeSantis and Ramaswamy slipping, Christie has sought to cast the New Hampshire primary as a “three-person race” between himself, Haley and Trump.

But now that he’s the only one of those five who could get left off the debate stage next week. GOP operatives in New Hampshire said the potential blow to his credibility would be hard to overcome.

“The fact is, if a candidate doesn’t make the debate stage, they no longer are viewed as a serious candidate by most voters. And there is no recovery from that,” said Fergus Cullen, a former New Hampshire GOP chair who is not aligned with a candidate.

“Doug Burgum, Asa Hutchinson, they’re no longer considered legitimate candidates because they aren’t participating in the debates,” Cullen said.

Matthew Bartlett, a GOP strategist who’s worked on several presidential campaigns but is unaffiliated this cycle, said Christie is in a “hard position” because he’s focusing his campaign primarily on one state.

“If he can’t make [the debate stage],” Bartlett said, “he’s got to look in the mirror and figure out if he means what he says, and if he can accomplish it better from the sidelines.”

Tell It Like It Is PAC, a super PAC supporting Christie’s campaign, launched a national cable advertising campaign last week in an apparent effort to boost the candidate’s poll numbers ahead of the debate deadline. According to AdImpact, the group is set to spend $342,000 across seven national cable channels, including Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network and Newsmax, which cater to Republican voters.

A person close to the super PAC and granted anonymity to speak freely about the ad buy said it was made to “communicate with a broader pool of voters, as well as the donor community” nationally.

Christie’s campaign has pointed to two national polls that it says could meet the requirements. The first, from YouGov and a website called The Liberal Patriot, has Christie at 6 percent. But the RNC’s rules say that polls “must be conducted on or after” Sept. 15. The poll was conducted mostly before that date: Sept. 7-18.

The second poll was commissioned by FairVote, a nonprofit group that advocates ranked-choice voting. But it was conducted by the GOP polling firm WPA Intelligence, which is also working for Never Back Down, the chief super PAC supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign.

The RNC’s rules say polls don’t count if they are “conducted by a polling company affiliated with a candidate or candidate committee.” While Never Back Down isn’t officially affiliated with DeSantis, the RNC has previously excluded polls from firms with similar loose ties to groups supporting candidates.

The RNC has declined to comment on the qualification process for the debates.

In Concord on Thursday, even some voters supportive of Christie worried what it would mean if he fails to make the stage — Mary Waples, a Bow independent, among them.

“People need to hear him,” she said.

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