WASHINGTON — The wait is over.
Fox News said Tuesday that Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and John Kasich will all appear on the dais Thursday for the first prime-time debate of the primary season.
The seven other major declared candidates — Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, and Jim Gilmore — will appear at a debate earlier Thursday evening.
The debate in Cleveland marks the beginning of a new stage in the Republican nominating contest, where candidates will likely sharpen their first contrasts with one another and the field’s front-runner, Trump. The debates — which gave new life to presidential candidates like Newt Gingrich in 2012 — are now only open to the heavily splintered party’s favorites.
In an unusual move backed by the Republican National Committee, Fox decided to rely on polling data to split the group of contenders in what might have otherwise turned into an unwieldy debate. The decision means Perry, governor of Texas for 14 years, and Santorum, who won the Iowa caucuses in 2012, will be relegated to the lower-tier debate.
Fox News spokeswoman Irena Briganti said the five polls included in the average were conducted by Bloomberg, CBS News, Fox News, Monmouth University and Quinnipiac University.
They were the most recent national polls from nonpartisan, nationally recognized organizations, she said, using standard methodology. Other factors: They used live interviewers, random-digit-dial sampling techniques and included both landlines and cellphones and their GOP primary vote question mirrored the ballot by reading all candidate names in random order and without honorifics, according to the statement from Fox News.
For months, GOP hopefuls at the rear of the pack have undertaken aggressive tactics in hopes of finishing in the top ten in national opinion surveys that Fox used to cull the 17-candidate fray.
Candidates like Perry and Graham in recent weeks have pursued increasingly attention-grabbing strategies in hopes of raising their public profiles and polling numbers. Nearly every candidate placed a new emphasis on national media appearances, while criticizing the early national polls that likely say little about which candidates will do well in Iowa and New Hampshire six months later.
Immediately after the roster was announced, Perry struck an optimistic tone about going into the lower tier debate.
“I look forward to being @FoxNews 5pm debate for what will be a serious exchange of ideas & positive solutions to get America back on track,” Perry tweeted Tuesday afternoon.