Next week, the holiday season gets a bit brighter, as the Republican presidential candidates gather around the old Yule log (moderator) for their fifth session of caroling (presidential debating).
After four debates in which the Republican Party and the hosting networks have tried to determine qualifications that would both 1) limit the size of the crowd on the stage and 2) ensure that deserving candidates were heard -- and after four debates of failing to do so -- CNN has established a set of criteria for Tuesday's debate that are truly inspiring in their complexity.
The way it will work is as follows: In polls from a certain set of pollsters over a defined period of time, candidates must average 3.5 percentage points in national polling or 4 percent in either Iowa or New Hampshire polling in order to appear in the main debate. If a candidate doesn't hit that mark, he or she may appear in the undercard debate (a.k.a. the "kiddie table") if he or she has at least four poll appearances of 1 percent or higher in any of the considered polls.
That actually leads to some interesting results. Below is the breakdown, with red boxes meaning that a criterion has been met.
Notice that the end result isn't much different from debates past: Jim Gilmore will have to watch from wherever he watches such things, assuming he remembers that he's still running for president.
The undercard debate is well-stocked with five candidates -- one more than last time. That's thanks to entries from two directions: Lindsey Graham stepped up to fill the empty podium left by Bobby Jindal's exit from the race, and Rand Paul slipped downward, just shy of the support he needs in Iowa to make it to the Big Show. (He, like everyone else, still has two days during which polls could come out and change things.)
What's really interesting, though, is the John Kasich-Chris Christie-Carly Fiorina line-up. None does well enough nationally to make the big stage (Christie and Fiorina, in fact, do worse than Paul). But each does well enough in New Hampshire that they get a ticket.
Think about that. Polling in Iowa largely reflects the national polling, save for Ted Cruz, whose national numbers only recently started to spike. Polling from New Hampshire, though, leans more heavily toward more moderate Republicans than are embraced in Iowa -- or by Republicans across the country. Without including New Hampshire, Kasich, Christie and Fiorina would leave the main event to the most popular Republicans running.
New Hampshire -- the little tiny state in the heart of New England -- is making sure that more moderate voices are present in the most-watched debate of the month, with an assist from CNN. That is assuming that Fiorina gets above 1 percent if a New Hampshire poll is released over the next 48 hours. If she doesn't get 1 percent, she too gets relegated.