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Debate lineup shakes up Republican presidential race

Chris Christie has made the transition from frontrunner to the kids' table, but for some of his GOP rivals, the news is even worse.
Republican presidential candidate and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks to voters at the Heritage Action Presidential Candidate Forum Sept. 18, 2015 in Greenville, SC. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty)
Republican presidential candidate and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks to voters at the Heritage Action Presidential Candidate Forum Sept. 18, 2015 in Greenville, SC. 
It wasn't too long ago that Chris Christie was quietly seen by insiders as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. In some 2013 polling -- two full years ago -- GOP voters were asked to look ahead to the 2016 cycle, and New Jersey's Republican governor was easily the party's star.
A lot has changed since. NBC News reported last night, for example, on the lineup for next week's debate for the Republican presidential field.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will not be on the main debate stage when Republican presidential candidates square off for their fourth debate next week. Fox Business Network announced Thursday that Christie, who has made the main stage at the previous three debates, will be in the undercard debate for the low-polling candidates. It is a blow to the Garden State governor who has seen a slight uptick in the polls after a strong performance at the CNBC debate last month.

The news couldn't come at a worse time for the governor. Recent polling suggests Christie's standing in New Hampshire is improving, which is the kind of movement the candidate could point to when reaching out to potential supporters and donors. But the question now is whether powerful GOP players would even give a second look to a candidate who can't qualify for a prime-time debate hosted by a Fox network.
Of course, Christie isn't the only one confronted with bad news. Mike Huckabee also found himself booted from the main stage, relegated to the kids-table table with the likes of Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal.
The developments were even worse for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and former New York Gov. George Pataki (R) -- two of the most experienced candidates in the entire 2016 cycle -- who learned last night that their support is so woeful, Fox won't even let them compete in the kids-table gathering.
Christian Ferry, Graham's campaign manager, said in a statement last night, "It is ironic that the only veteran in the race is going to be denied a voice the day before Veterans Day. In the end, the biggest loser tonight is the American people and the Republican presidential primary process that has been hijacked by news outlets.”
The main debate stage will now feature the top eight GOP candidates -- Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, and Rand Paul -- down from the 10-candidate stage in the most recent Republican gathering. Note, however, that while Christie and Huckabee failed to get an invitation, others barely made it on to the main stage: Fox Business required a 2.5% polling average, and Paul (2.5%), Kasich (2.8%), and Fiorina (3%) narrowly avoided the embarrassment themselves.
All of this, of course, renews questions about whether networks are relying on the best possible metrics. Jindal, for example, has focused the bulk of his attention on Iowa -- the first nominating contest -- and some recent polling suggests he's made real progress, passing Bush and Kasich in the Hawkeye State.
But the criteria doesn't care, ignoring early-state polling and focusing exclusively on national surveys, despite their dubious predictive value.