Where Rick Perry's Going, He Doesn't Need Rules

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 12 2012 5:19 PM

Where Rick Perry's Going, He Doesn't Need Rules

Dylan Byers noticed that Rick Perry was all podium'd up for CNN's final pre-South Carolina debate, even though Perry didn't seem to match the network's inclusion standards. The network demands that candidates average at least 7 percent in three polls. Perry, it seemed, had hit 7 percent in one poll. CNN's Sam Feist eventually had to explain this with some boring mathematics. Paraphrased by Byers:

When CBS published the results of its poll on January 9, it listed Rick Perry at 6 percent. However, the full release shows that Perry received 6 percent when those surveyed had an option to choose "Someone Else," and received 7 percent when those surveyed did not have that option. Because Perry received 7 percent in the latter poll, he qualifies for the CNN debate in South Carolina... by the skin of his teeth.
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Fine: Perry's in. But what an odd rule. At this point, what do national polls mean in the Republican primary? They've not quite been predictive of the results in caucus and primary states -- Gingrich does far better nationally than he does with voters. In Perry's case, they've tracked a national collapse of support that's outmatched by his collapse in voting states. Iowa and New Hampshire voters, given chances to decide whether they wanted Perry to be their nominee, have cast 370,740 votes. Rick Perry has won 14,370 of them -- less than 4 percent. Republicans are crying out for Perry to leave the race. And yet he keeps making it into debates.

I had a feeling that Buddy Roemer would react negatively to this. And he did. "Another example of the media (insert corporation here) choosing our president and not the average American, like those who give to my campaign," he said. "The media has an important role to play but they are taking advantage of this role by arbitrarily choosing who can participate in their debate."

"Arbitrary" is overselling things a bit. CNN's standard gives a debate berth to one candidacy that voters have seen and rejected, while continuing to deny one to a candidacy that voters haven't really seen.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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