Racing against the clock: GOP presidential long shots work furiously to qualify for first Republican debate

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With a deadline fast approaching, multiple Republican White House contenders are desperately trying to make the stage for Wednesday’s first GOP presidential nomination debate. 

Mayor Francis Suarez of Miami, one of those candidates still aiming to qualify for the Fox News-hosted showdown in Milwaukee, emphasized that ‘for someone like me, it’s critical’ to make the debate stage.

Eight candidates have reached the polling and donor thresholds mandated by the Republican National Committee to qualify for the initial Aug. 23 encounter. 

They are former President Donald Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, former Ambassador and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and biotech entrepreneur and bestselling author Vivek Ramaswamy.

Trump has yet to confirm whether he will attend the GOP debate Wednesday.

Joining Suarez in trying to make the debate stage are one-time CIA spy and former Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Michigan businessman and quality control leader Perry Johnson and Larry Elder, a former talk radio host who was a candidate for governor in the 2021 California recall election.

Suarez and Johnson on Friday announced they had met the polling and donor criteria. Hutchinson declared on Sunday he met the thresholds to join the debate stage. However, there has been no confirmation from the RNC on them meeting the qualifications.

The candidates have until 9 p.m. ET Monday night — 48 hours before the primetime debate — to reach the RNC’s polling and donor thresholds and sign the pledge.

‘We’re planning as if we’re going to be there, and we’re excited about being there,’ Suarez told Fox News Digital last week.

For Suarez, who’s not well known outside South Florida, the debate’s ‘the first opportunity for me to introduce myself to the country, and it’s important. … People have a real opportunity to know my story, to get to know me as a person and to understand why I am the best person, the best choice, to lead this country into the future.’

Both Suarez and Hurd say they’ve hit the donor threshold but are still shy of reaching the polling criteria. 

But Hurd, a vocal GOP Trump critic, has repeatedly said he won’t take the loyalty pledge because he couldn’t support Trump if the former president wins the 2024 Republican nomination.

‘I made it very clear that my issue is not with supporting the Republican nominee. I’m not going to support Donald Trump. But Donald Trump hasn’t even agreed to sign the loyalty pledge, so we’ll see how all of this transpires,’ Hurd told Fox News last week.

Hutchinson, who served as a federal prosecutor, congressman and cabinet-level official in President George W. Bush’s administration, has reached the polling criteria and claimed during a CNN interview Sunday his campaign met the donor threshold and ‘submitted 42,000 individual donors’ to the RNC.

He said he was ‘delighted’ and ‘thankful’ for his supporters.

‘People want me on there as someone who’s going to speak the truth and also to be a counter to Donald Trump and talk about how he would be taking our country in the wrong direction. I want to be on there. We’re not there yet. We need everybody’s help,’ Hutchinson, another vocal Republican critic of the former president, told Fox News recently.

Elder, who’s yet to reach either of the donor and polling thresholds, emphasized that ‘it’s very important’ that he make the debate stage ‘because I think a lot of Americans haven’t seen me, haven’t heard my backstory.’

Making the debate stage only gets harder going forward, as the criteria rises for the second debate, a Fox Business-hosted showdown Sept. 27 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. 

Asked what’s next if he doesn’t qualify, Suarez pointedly noted that ‘if a candidate doesn’t make the debate stage, doesn’t make the minimum thresholds, they shouldn’t stay in the race.’

‘It’s very hard to get to a higher threshold to make the second debate if you’re not even on the first debate,’ Suarez noted. ‘I think any candidate that doesn’t make the first debate should think long and hard about it because time is valuable, and you shouldn’t be taking time — or trying to take away time from people who are fighting to get their message out there.’

Hurd would only say that if he’s not on the stage, he’ll ‘evaluate and go from there.’

Longtime Republican strategist Ryan Williams, a veteran of multiple GOP presidential campaigns, had a blunt message for the contenders who don’t earn a ticket to Milwaukee.

‘If you can’t make the debate stage, you’re not viewed as a serious candidate. End of story,’ Williams stressed.

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