The polling and the pundits agree: Carly Fiorina deserves to be on the main debate stage come next month at the Reagan Library.
After months of answering questions and traveling around the early primary states, Fiorina appears to have finally gotten her break. According to initial post-debate polling nationally and in early primary states, Fiorina is poised to qualify for the main debate next month — and in comfortable fashion.
While her performance in last Thursday's "happy hour" debate was striking, her rise in the polls raises another question: Who does she replace in the top ten on September 16 in Simi Valley, Calif. in the second GOP debate?
That raises the question of who she might replace. Republicans keep mentioning the same three names: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. The trio are currently sitting on the edge of debate cut off in new polling and could be in danger of missing out.
"What's good for Carly Fiorina might be bad for Chris Christie or John Kasich," said Kevin Madden, former spokesman for Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign. "Fiorina has certainly made the most of her debate performance in its aftermath, so if she can maintain her spot in the polls, one of the other candidates who squeaked into the last one may end up getting bumped out."
Madden's prediction was echoed by ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd, who thinks Christie is the one who will fall into the undercard debate.
"My guess is Chris Christie," said Dowd, who served as chief strategist for George W. Bush's reelection campaign in 2004. "He barely made it in the last one. I mean, he made it in by half a percent or something, so he and Kasich barely made it in. Kasich did a better job, I thought.
"We'll see, obviously, in the next few days about polling and what all that turns out to be," Dowd said. "But that's my guess is … that Christie didn't do the job he needed to do, and I think he falls off."
Post-debate national polling began to trickle in Tuesday, with the latest Rasmussen Reports poll showing Christie and Kasich both close calls. The two sit ninth and and tenth in the poll, with each sitting at four percent.
Meanwhile, 11th place in the poll belongs to Huckabee, who was fourth in polling average ahead of the Fox debate. Huckabee fell from seven to three percent after the previous Rasmussen poll, which was released ahead of the debate last Thursday.
"I guess that'll be up to the polling," said Fergus Cullen, a former New Hampshire GOP chairman, when asked who will get the ax. "But the one that, I think, adds the least to the conversation is Mike Huckabee."
"He's a retread," Cullen explained. "He hasn't — I think he's been to New Hampshire literally one time this year. I'm not sure how serious a candidate he is."
Cullen is right about one thing: Huckabee certainly isn't placing his eggs in the New Hampshire basket. The former Arkansas governor has not made a stop in the Granite state since he announced his 2016 bid, with him even skipping out on the candidate forum last Monday in Manchester which attracted 14 candidates on the GOP side.
One candidate that has seen a bump in their New Hampshire numbers is Kasich, who has cris-crossed the state since mid-July before and after his 2016 announcement. However, his numbers continue to lag behind nationally and in Iowa, where he sits in eighth and ninth in the latest Suffolk and PPP polls, respectively.
"Hard to say," said GOP strategist Liz Mair. "The obvious guess would be Kasich, since he eked it this time. But Kasich also surprised people by doing better in polling out of the gate than really anyone expected. Was it just a post-announcement bump? I guess we'll find out."
However, while some in GOP circles have an idea or are willing to offer up a prediction, some simply are unable to at this time. At the rate the primary contest is going, says noted Ronald Reagan biographer Craig Shirley, no one knows what is going to happen.
"You know, anything I'd say would be speculative. We're going to know — if there isn't polling out already, it will come out very quickly," said Shirley, founder of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, which signed on with Scott Walker's campaign. "I really don't know."
"For all I know, Mickey Mouse is going to be on the stage," Shirley added.