Debate Field Is Set: Trump, Bush In; Santorum, Fiorina Out

CLEVELAND (AP) -
Republican presidential candidates, from left, Lindsey Graham, Ben Carson, John Kasich, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Rick Santorum speak among themselves after a forum Monday, in Manchester, N.H.  (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Republican presidential candidates, from left, Lindsey Graham, Ben Carson, John Kasich, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Rick Santorum speak among themselves after a forum Monday, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Billionaire businessman Donald Trump has scored the top spot for Thursday night’s leadoff debate of the 2016 presidential race, joined by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and seven other Republican contenders who made the campaign’s first cut.

Seven others will be excluded, including former technology executive Carly Fiorina and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, relegated to a pre-debate forum and second-tier status in the party’s crowded field.

Fox News announced the 10 GOP White House hopefuls who will take part in the prime-time debate in the crucial swing state of Ohio.

Beyond Trump, those selected among the top 10 — based on recent national polls — include Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Those who didn’t make the field for the first debate include Carly Fiorina, the GOP’s only female presidential candidate, Gov. Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former New York Gov. George Pataki and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore.

The announcement concludes an anxiety-filled process for a GOP that worked aggressively to improve its debates ahead of election season. Yet with the largest field of contenders in recent memory, organizers say something had to give to ensure the debate didn’t turn into a nationally broadcast circus.

“We never ever envisioned we’d have 17 major candidates,” said Steve Duprey, New Hampshire’s representative to the Republican National Committee who helped craft the debate plan. “There’s no perfect solution.”

Fox News is the host of Thursday’s event, the first of six party-sanctioned debates before primary voting begins in February. The network says it used a selection of national polls to make this week’s cut.

Republican officials were particularly concerned about Fiorina’s status, hoping she would help balance Hillary Rodham Clinton’s push to rally women to her candidacy. Trump’s recent surge in the polls was particularly damaging to Fiorina.