Former Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said on Sunday that he had met the qualification criteria for the first Republican presidential debate this week, which would make him the eighth candidate to qualify.
Or possibly the ninth. Perhaps the 10th? It depends whom you ask — and believe.
To participate in Wednesday’s debate in Milwaukee, candidates must meet a donor threshold (40,000 individual contributors, including 200 each from 20 states) and a polling threshold (at least 1 percent support in three qualifying national polls, or two qualifying national polls plus qualifying polls from two early-voting states: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina). They must also sign a pledge to support the Republican nominee, whoever it is.
Seven candidates have definitely qualified: Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota, former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, former Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, former Vice President Mike Pence, the entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. An eighth, former President Donald J. Trump, could easily qualify if he wanted to but has not signed the loyalty pledge, and says he plans to skip the debate and instead post an interview with the former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Mr. Hutchinson can probably be safely added to the qualified category soon. The Republican National Committee will need to verify his donor numbers, but he has some wiggle room there — he told CNN on Sunday that he had submitted proof of 42,000 contributors. A New York Times analysis shows that he has met the polling threshold, and he reiterated in Sunday’s interview that he will sign the loyalty pledge.
A person with knowledge of the qualification process told The Times on Sunday that the R.N.C. was verifying Mr. Hutchinson’s donors, and that he would be sent the pledge to sign if his numbers were verified.
But there are two candidates — Mayor Francis X. Suarez of Miami and the businessman Perry Johnson — who say they have met the criteria, but whose claims have not been corroborated by the R.N.C.
That confirmation is crucial, not only because the R.N.C. must certify the donor numbers but also because its polling criteria include some methodological stipulations that are hard for third parties to verify. It has generally refused to confirm which polls count.
Mr. Johnson’s qualification depends on whether some specific polls count; the person familiar with the process said the R.N.C. had not yet verified his polling or donor numbers. Mr. Suarez’s is still more questionable: It is unclear which polls even might qualify him, and the person said he had not qualified by the R.N.C.’s criteria, though he has until Monday night to do so.
It wasn’t like this four years ago.
The Democratic National Committee established similar criteria for debate participation — a donor minimum and polling thresholds that increased for each debate — but the polling requirement was simpler.
The D.N.C. identified pollsters it deemed reliable, and a date range within which qualifying polls for a given debate had to be conducted. If one of those pollsters released a poll from those dates, it counted.
The R.N.C., by contrast, has a list of methodological criteria that individual polls must meet. A single pollster could release two polls, only one of which counts. And while some of the criteria — like a minimum sample size — are easy to assess, others are highly technical.
The deadline to meet the requirements is Monday, 48 hours before the debate is set to begin. Which candidates will actually appear will be known Wednesday evening.
Christine Zhang contributed reporting.
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