Fox Business Network anchors moderating the early GOP presidential debate Thursday said of Sen. Rand Paul that “it’s his loss” if he in fact opts out of the event, as he has said he will.
“It’s his loss, really, when you think about the many millions of Americans that are tuning in on Thursday night and want to hear these substantive policy issues discussed,” Trish Regan told Multichannel News on Tuesday, speaking by phone from the event venue in North Charleston, S.C. “By him not participating he’s losing out on a huge number of people that could have heard his message.”
Sandra Smith, her co-moderator for the 6 p.m. preliminary-round debate that precedes the main event at 9 p.m., said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie scored points in the undercard event on Nov. 10, the first time FBN hosted debates. Since then Christie, while still trailing several other candidates in the race, has gained enough in the polls that he is in the leaders’ debate on Thursday. “That first debate is still key for these candidates to be in a position to make a big move if they want to,” Smith said. “There’s less people in that first debate. They clearly can get their message across if they choose to.”
Paul, the Kentucky senator, balked after FBN on Monday set the slates for the main GOP presidential debate, which includes top-seven poll leaders Donald Trump; Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio; Dr. Ben Carson; Christie; Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. FBN's Neil Cavuto and Maria Bartiromo will moderate the main event.
Paul, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum would appear in the undercard.
"I don’t think the media should have the power to predetermine elections," Paul told CNN Monday (Jan. 11). He said he thought FBN made a mistake by "pre-deciding to exclude certain people from the stage,” and that he would make that point in protest over the next couple of days.
"I won't participate in anything that wasn't first-tier because we have a first-tier campaign," he said of the undercard event.
Smith and Regan said it was too early to count out any GOP candidate, ahead of the first voting contest, the Iowa caucuses, and the first state primary, in New Hampshire. Regan said she was born and raised in New Hampshire and knows that voters there wait until the last minute to decide, sometimes changing their minds several times before deciding.
“I think anything can still happen,” Regan said.
While the Nov. 10 FBN debates were focused mainly on economic issues, domestic and international issues are more on the table this time around. Voters’ interests have changed, too since Nov. 10, when the economy was probably their top concern. Now, the moderators said, terrorism is top on voters’ minds. The economy is still huge though, especially with the stock market gyrations in recent weeks.
“It’s not tough to come up with good questions,” Smith said Tuesday afternoon. “Right now we are finely tuning the ones we have.” They planned to go over them again today following last night’s final State of the Union address by President Obama. While Gerald Seib of The Wall Street Journal had joined them in moderating the Nov. 10 undercard, the Journal is not co-sponsoring Thursday's debate so the moderating falls on Smith and Regan alone.
John Eggerton contributed to this report.