The warm-up Republican debate Wednesday night shares a few characteristics with Siberia. It's unloved, and people tried desperately to avoid being sent there, leaving it with a small population and relatively few visitors. But it also shares one other characteristic: There's plenty of space to roam.
In addition to switching around the eligibility requirements, CNN made another big change after the Fox News debate at the beginning of August. Instead of lasting two hours, it will last nearly three, theoretically allowing all 11 candidates the chance to be heard. The warm-up debate, the Siberia, will last about an hour and 45 minutes.
But that's between only four candidates. Meaning that — if there were no commercials or moderator interruptions, of which there will be many — the undercard crew would get more than 10 more minutes of airtime per person.
If the same percentage of ads and moderation is subtracted from the undercard and the main event, the four lowest-polling Republicans will get 75 percent more speaking time than the popular ones. For every minute you get to hear Donald Trump, you get to hear George Pataki for a minute and 45 seconds. Good deal!
There's not really any way around this. It's too late to significantly trim back the length of the first debate without having to otherwise fill airtime. It seems unlikely there will be a musical interlude or that the hosts will perform a dramatic soliloquy. And given that far fewer people are expected to tune in for the first debate, it's hard to believe that CNN sold far more ads for the early show than the main event.
We noted Wednesday morning that, given a pool of 1,000 Republicans, only 25 would support the four candidates in the early debate. People might not care about the four, but they sure will get to hear a lot from them.