CNN, like Fox News before it, will only feature 10 candidates during its prime-time debate. In theory, that's good news for Fiorina. But in practice, it isn't. CNN's criteria will use a polling average that includes those eight polls in which Fiorina was at 2 percent or less -- meaning that she needs a lot more polls to lift her average into the top ten.
"Despite being solidly in the top 10 by every measure, the political establishment is still rigging the game to keep Carly off the main debate stage next month," deputy campaign manager Sarah Isgur Flores wrote.
The best way to explain why Flores thinks the game is “rigged" is to consider it visually.
Below are all of the polls that will be included in the CNN criteria so far. Each dot is a poll number for a candidate; the lines show the average over time. After the first poll, in which Fiorina got 1 percent of support, her average was 1. After the second, when she got zero percent, it fell to 0.5. And so on.
We've made Fiorina's red dots slightly larger so that they're more noticeable. You can see that, after the debate, Chris Christie's blue dots are still pretty close to his line; same with Rick Perry's green dots. But Fiorina's two dots are way up at the 5 percent mark -- and her average line only shifted toward them a little bit.
Fiorina needs to pass at least two people in the polls. The next national poll comes out Thursday morning from Quinnipiac University, so it's the first chance that she'll have to move her line more.
Now let's get into the hypotheticals about how this plays out. If 1. that Quinnipiac University poll matches the most recent national poll, from CNN/ORC, and if 2. there's another poll with the same numbers each day thereafter -- it would still take 20 days for Fiorina to pass Christie. That's despite beating him in the polls 5 percent to 4 percent on each and every one of those days.
And that date would actually be after the Sept. 10 cutoff date CNN is using for its polling window.
If Thursday's poll matches the Fox News poll that came out a bit before CNN's, and if, again, the same poll numbers come out every day after, it would still take Fiorina 10 days to pass Christie.
Or if she gets 5 percent to everyone else's 3 -- it would still take nine more polls to make it into the top 10.
It doesn't have to be 5 percent in every poll, either -- just an average of 5 percent in 10 polls to Christie and John Kasich's 3 percent on average. Still takes 10 polls to get there.
The Republican Party would clearly like to have room on the stage for Carly Fiorina. She's shown a willingness to take on Donald Trump and other heavyweights, including Hillary Clinton. As a woman, she's in a different position to critique Clinton than other Republicans -- critique the RNC would love for the millions of likely viewers to hear.
Unfortunately, that is a big hurdle. Unless Fiorina's poll numbers increase a lot -- fast -- or unless there are a lot of polls that come out between now and that Sept. 10 cut-off, Fiorina will once again be relegated to the pre-game show.
All because she was still unknown the last time she was in that position.