Hogan Gidley, executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party, says that he is not sure which Republican presidential candidates will be at the May 15 debate co-hosted by Fox News Channel. He says every candidate has received a letter outlining the criteria which must be met but he will not release a copy of that letter to Accuracy in Media. He says Fox News will decide the candidates based on whether they get one percent in various state or national opinion polls but he is not sure what polls the channel will be using to make that determination.
The incomplete answers to these important questions add to the mystery and intrigue surrounding the debate. They create suspicion that the channel is stacking the debate in favor of the more liberal frontrunners, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney. The latest Fox News poll has Giuliani at 35 percent, McCain at 16, and Romney at 10. Giuliani is a favorite of Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News parent company News Corporation.
The same poll  shows two conservative Republican candidates-former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore and Rep. Ron Paul-at less than one percent nationally and another conservative candidate, Rep. Tom Tancredo, wasn’t even listed.
Therefore, if Fox News uses this poll to select the candidates to be invited to the May 15 debate, three conservatives will automatically be excluded.
The Charleston (South Carolina) Post and Courier points out that “In national and state polls, seven of the 10 people who say they are running for the Republican nomination hover around 1 percent or less. Only former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona Sen. John McCain and Romney easily meet the criteria based on polling.”
This means that, depending on what polls are used to determine eligibility, Sam Brownback , Duncan Hunter  and Mike Huckabee  may also be excluded. Although all three candidates are listed at one percent or more in the Fox News poll, it is not clear what ratings they garner statewide and whether those rankings will disqualify them.
Gilmore, who denounces the three frontrunners as “Rudy McRomney,” an attack on their perceived lack of conservative credentials, is regarded by his supporters as a strong, steady and electable conservative Republican candidate for President. His website  claims that Giuliani, McCain and Romney have opposed “core conservative values.”
All 10 official and declared Republican candidates are scheduled to participate in a May 3 debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, an event hosted by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, in conjunction with MSNBC and The Politico.
The Tancredo website is here .
The Paul website is here .
But the May 15 South Carolina debate is different in that it seems deliberately designed to restrict participation by the official and registered Republican candidates on the basis of some being regarded as not “serious.” Candidates not only have to meet the criteria set by Fox News, in terms of polling numbers, they have to pay $25,000 to help the South Carolina Republican Party run and pay for the primary.
As for the paperwork, Gidley told AIM that the candidates need to have filed as a candidate with the South Carolina Republican Party and the Federal Election Commission. This means the candidate must have created a presidential exploratory committee or a formal campaign organization. Filing fees and constitutional requirements must be met and the candidates must “garner at least one percent in recent state and national polling leading up to the registration deadline, as determined by Fox News Channel and the South Carolina Republican Party,” he said.
Gidley said that he thought the polls would include “some by Fox” but he was unsure what others, if any, would be used to determine criteria.
Gidley also tells AIM that the South Carolina Republican Party  will have a list of the candidates who will be invited to the debate by the end of the day, but he doesn’t know when the list will be released.
He said a previous AIM column on the controversy surrounding the debate has generated “a million emails from people all over.”
Some of the concern stems from the relationship between Giuliani, the Republican frontrunner, and Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the Fox News parent company. Murdoch’s New York Post supported Giuliani for mayor and Giuliani helped Fox News get carriage on the New York cable system.
The Giuliani website  features comments praising the former New York City mayor from Sean Hannity, co-host of a Fox News Channel program, and several audio clips of Giuliani on the Hannity radio show are featured as well. The site also touts the results of the most recent Fox News poll showing Giuliani with a “strong lead” over his Republican rivals.
Hannity is the featured speaker at the South Carolina Republican Party Silver Elephant Banquet on May 14, one day before the debate.
The book, Rupert Murdoch: The Untold Story Of The World’s Greatest Media Wizard , by veteran Australian journalist Neil Chenoweth, describes the relationship between Murdoch and Giuliani, noting that Murdoch’s “gossip-hungry” New York Post newspaper became “unusually reticent” when it came to stories about Giuliani’s apparent extramarital affair with Judith Nathan, who became his wife and now goes by “Judith S. Giuliani.”
Citing this and other controversies from his past, Michael Tomasky of the left-wing The American Prospect magazine nevertheless concludes  that Giuliani would be a “formidable” Republican presidential candidate.
Referring to his conservative support, Tomasky says, “Maybe conservatives, in their desperation, will want a man who supports policies utterly anathema to them?and whose personal morality has been so aggressively at odds with the way they tell the rest of us we should live. They love their authority figures, and Giuliani is certainly that.”
A Giuliani supporter, reacting to my earlier column  about him being “crowned” by Fox News as the GOP standard bearer in advance of any presidential debates, cites his impressive poll numbers: “In case you didn’t notice: ONLY Rudy can beat Hillary in New York! In addition: California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio. Not a bad start.”
This seems to be what’s driving the Fox News criteria for the South Carolina Republican debate. It’s the polls that matter, not the voters. And Giuliani already looks like a winner.