Chris Christie has officially been banished to where no successful candidate has gone before: the undercard debate.
Fox Business announced Thursday night that the New Jersey governor has been cut from the primetime debate stage due to low poll numbers.
The network, which is co-sponsoring the November 10th debate with the Wall Street Journal, required candidates to average at least 2.5% in the national polls through November 4 in order to qualify for the main stage. Christie is averaging 2% in the polls.
He’s not the only top tier candidate to be knocked down a peg. Mike Huckabee will join him in the so-called “happy hour” debate with nonentities Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal.
Lindsey Graham and George Pataki, who have been stuck at the kiddie table for all of the debates, were removed from the lineup altogether.
It’s possible that being onstage with fewer candidates who are far less popular than he is will provide Christie with an opportunity to stand out. But right now, this looks like a setback for a campaign that was just starting to get some momentum. After Christie gave a strong debate performance last month, his poll numbers in New Hampshire had just started to climb and this week, a video of his remarks on drug addiction and rehabilitation went viral.
Candidates have graduated from the undercard debate to primetime before. After Carly Fiorina introduced herself to the country during the first debate, in Cleveland, she surged in the polls and vaulted into the top tier for the next event. But Christie is the first candidate to be knocked out of the primetime debate. There’s no precedent to help us predict how Christie’s campaign will survive this blow, or if it will even turn out to matter much at all.
Christie was talking about drug addiction in Somersworth, New Hampshire on Thursday night. Just before Fox Business released the news to the public, he was ushered out of the room.
Moments later, his campaign responded on Twitter.
Fox Business’ announcement was a very unwelcome distraction from an otherwise good week for Christie.
After well-received performances during the last two GOP debates, Christie received a bump the confidence of the pundit class (so much so that the liberal website Salon published an article bemoaning the “Christie comeback” narrative) and in the polls in New Hampshire, where he has focused much of his time during his campaign. In a WBUR poll released Wednesday, 8 percent of likely primary voters said they would support Christie, up from 6 percent in September.
And on Friday, The Huffington Post released a video of Christie talking about addiction. They called it his “emotional plea” and it certainly sounded like one. He talked about the compassion his mother, a smoker who had lung cancer, received when she sought treatment. He encouraged that same compassion for people who suffer from drug addiction.
The video slowly gained steam until it, in the words of a Christie campaign press release, went “viral.” As of Thursday night it has been viewed, on Facebook, over 6 million times.
The Washington Post wrote of the video, “In short, if elections are about moments, Christie is having one.”
But it’s hard to sustain a moment when no one is watching and it’s even harder when appearances suggest that you are no longer a competitive candidate, and that will likely be the case at the 7 p.m. debate Christie will take part in next week.