Earlier today, TPM noted that CNN was inviting Rick Perry to its upcoming debate — even though he did not appear to meet the network’s official criteria for candidate inclusion. In response to that report, CNN has offered a fuller explanation of how it concluded that Perry does indeed make their cut — by the skin of his teeth.
CNN Washington Bureau Chief Sam Feist, who is also the executive producer in charge of the network’s debates, told me this evening that no special exception was made for Perry.
“I’m agnostic and objective about this. I neither want the candidates in, nor want to exclude a candidate,” said Feist. “That’s why we published this criteria ahead of time. Other networks don’t always publish their criteria ahead of time.”
According to CNN’s criteria for inclusion, a candidate must get at least 4th place in either Iowa or New Hampshire, or get an average of 7 percent support in at least three national Republican or three South Carolina primary polls released in January, before a January 18 deadline. Perry of course came in 5th in Iowa, and 6th in New Hampshire.
According to CNN, Perry qualifies under the provision requiring him to tally at least 7 percent in three national polls. But only two national polls — a Gallup tracking poll published on Jan. 3, and a Reuters poll published Jan. 9 — give Perry 7 percent.
So where is the third poll?
Feist points to a CBS poll published Jan. 9.
The first time: “Which one of these candidates would you like to see the Republican Party nominate for President in 2012 - Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, or would you like to see someone else nominated?” This question resulted in 6 percent support for Perry, as CBS reports, with 19 percent for the listed choice of “someone else,” which can be a magnet for undecided respondents.
“That’s a non-traditional way,” Feist said. “That’s now how most polls ask it. That’s not how our polls ask it.”
CBS then asked a second time: “If you had to choose, which one of these candidates would you like to see the Republican Party nominate for President in 2012 - Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, or Rick Santorum?” Notice that this time, there was no “Someone else” choice (though the poll did still accept “someone else” as a volunteered response). Asking the question twice can have the effect of pushing leaners to give a firmer response.
The result: 7 percent for Perry.
But Feist said Perry still qualifies even if you only give him 6 percent from the CBS poll.
“If you average 7, 7 and 6, you get 6.67. And across the board, in polling methodology, you round up to get to the next digit. And so even if you were to insist - even if someone were to insist that we use CBS’s non-traditional methodology, in which case Governor Perry gets a 6, with the other two polls in which he is listed as 7, average to 6.67, yielding a 7.”
Feist says he had no contact with the Perry campaign prior to issuing the debate invitation.
“As far as I’m concerned, he gets in — any way you look at it, he receives an invitation.”