Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) will likely be back on the main stage on Thursday for the final Republican presidential debate before the February 1 Iowa caucuses.
To qualify the Fox News, candidates need to be in a top-five standing in an average of five recent state polls in Iowa or New Hampshire. Or they can place within the top six in an average of five recent national polls.
Paul polled too low to qualify for the GOP debate earlier this month, and he boycotted the lower-tier, “undercard” version.
But according to the five most recent Iowa polls that fit Fox’s criteria, Paul is currently tied with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) for fifth place in Iowa — enough to make the main stage.
There, he will likely join Bush, Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) at Thursday’s debate.
The senator’s campaign appeared much more publicly reassured that Paul would qualify than in previous instances when the senator has teetered on the edge.
“And that should be a lock on the main stage. See y’all Thursday in Iowa,” Doug Stafford, the Paul campaign’s chief strategist, said on Twitter, linking to a Tuesday Quinnipiac University poll that put Paul in fifth place.
And Paul’s campaign manager, Chip Englander, tweeted that even if a new poll dropped later on Tuesday, it would likely replace a Loras College poll that was helping to buoy Bush’s average in the state.
Last-minute polls have shuffled Paul onto the stage before. Paul qualified for CNN’s GOP debate in December after a poll published just hours before the cutoff time put the senator over the top.
But there have been setbacks, most notably the Fox Business debate for which he failed to qualify. The senator proceeded to skip the lower-tier debate and instead on a weeklong media blitz in New York, appearing for more a dozen interviews with print, radio, television, and digital publications.
During an interview with Business Insider, Paul estimated that the total viewership for his appearances on news and talk shows throughout the week was around 15 million viewers, though the number would likely be lower considering redundant viewers who watched multiple interviews.
During the actual debate itself, Paul holed up in Twitter’s Manhattan headquarters, fielding questions on Twitter and livestreaming.
The stunt appeared to work — during the debate, Paul’s event hashtag was the third-most-popular hashtag in the US on Twitter, and by the time that the debate was finished, the senator gained the fourth-most Twitter followers of all the GOP candidates.
Campaign officials publicly hailed the event as a success, and the senator projected enthusiasm throughout the livestream.
“I think we’ve taken not a perfect situation — because it isn’t good to be excluded, and it is unfair — and turned it into a positive,” Paul told Business Insider.
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