ABC, Fox Limit NH Debate

| Tue Jan. 1, 2008 9:07 AM PST

ABC and Fox are limiting the New Hampshire primary vote by denying candidates they deem non-competitive the right to participate in the last big debate here after the Iowa caucuses.

The way things stand now, Democrats Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel won't be allowed to participate in the Saturday, January 5 debate sponsored by ABC News, Facebook and WMUR. On the Republican side, Duncan Hunter has been kicked out.

Republicans Ron Paul and Duncan Hunter are to be excluded from a Sunday, January 6 Fox News GOP forum as well.

But Fred Thompson, who is nowhere in the New Hampshire race, is to be included by Fox.

ABC and WMUR have set the following criteria for getting into their Saturday, January 5 debate to be held in Manchester, according to this morning's Manchester Union Leader:

- Place in the top four in the January 3 Iowa caucuses

- Poll 5 percent or higher in one of the last four reputable random sample New Hampshire telephone surveys sponsored by an established news organization and conducted and released by 9 a.m. on Friday, January 4.

- Poll 5 percent or higher in one of the last four reputable random sample national telephone surveys sponsored by an established news organization and conducted and released on or before 9 a.m. Friday, January 4.

WMUR News Director Andrew Vrees told the Union Leader, "Right now, Dodd has a half of a percent in our most recent poll. That's two in 512 telling us they'd vote for Chris Dodd. Gravel has zero and Dennis Kucinich has 2 percent, and we're rounding up."

"Historically," said Vrees, "candidates with these types of numbers a week before the primary don't fare much better on Election Day."

Republican state chairman Fergus Cullen said Fox News has invited John McCain, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee to the Sunday forum. "No one else was invited," Cullen said.

In a statement, Cullen was critical of all sponsors of the debates and the forum. "Limiting the number of candidates who are invited to participate in debates is not consistent with the tradition of the first-in-the-nation primary," he said. "The level playing field requires that all serious candidates be given an equal opportunity to participate — not just a selected few determined by the media prior to any votes being cast."

Paul spokesman Kate Rick said the Paul campaign "has called Fox a half-dozen times" and received no response. In the past Paul has said Fox is "scared of me," and that they were propagandists for the Iraq war, and not real conservatives. "We have been here in New Hampshire a fair amount. We have raised $19 million this quarter, and we're polling at 8 percent here, which is ahead of Mr. Thompson," Rick said. "We are at a loss as to what criteria we are not meeting."

Over the weekend, the Kucinich camp was scrambling, madly trying to get the candidate's polling figures up to 5 percent. Chris Collier, Kucinich spokesman, said an August poll had his candidate at 7 percent.

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