People applaud New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie after he addressed a gathering of New Jersey business leaders, Dec. 8, 2015, in East Windsor, N.J. 
Photo by Mel Evans/AP

CNN announces nine candidates for prime-time debate


Nine Republican presidential candidates will take the main stage for the last primary debate in 2015 for the party on Tuesday night, CNN announced Sunday.

GOP front-runner Donald Trump will be in the center, just as he’s been in all the debates. Neurosurgeon Ben Carson will be on Trump’s right and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will be on his left.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul are the remaining six candidates who will appear on the main debate stage.

Christie is back on the main debate stage after being placed in the undercard lineup in the last debate on Fox Business. The New Jersey governor has since received coveted endorsements in New Hampshire – and seen his favorability rise there – from the state’s Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley and the Union-Leader newspaper.

RELATED: Chris Christie’s make-or-break moment

Rand Paul remains on the main stage even as his poll numbers continue to dwindle. His campaign, anticipating the senator may not have qualified for the prime-time debate, argued in a statement ahead of the lineup announcement that Paul be included. The Kentucky senator only polled at 2% in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal GOP national poll released Sunday. 

The qualifications for the prime-time debate were based national polls, state polls in Iowa and state polls in New Hampshire from Oct. 29 to Dec. 13. The candidates had to have an average of at least 3.5% nationally, at least 4% in Iowa, or at least 4% in New Hampshire to qualify. The podium placement is based only on the average of national polls.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, and former New York Gov. George Pataki will be part of the undercard debate before prime time.

Graham and Pataki did not make the earlier debate last month that featured Christie, Huckabee, Santorum and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Jindal has since dropped out of the race.

Debates and Election 2016

CNN announces nine candidates for prime-time debate