CNBC Preserves 'Undercard' Debate For Next Month's Republican Event

Candidates must average 3 percent in the polls to take part in the main event.

NEW YORK -- CNBC announced plans Wednesday for next month's Republican presidential debate, assuaging fears among second-tier candidates that they would be kept off the stage as the large field begins to winnow. 

The business network will air a debate on Oct. 28 at 8 p.m. for any candidate averaging at least 3 percent among selected national polls, though it said a standing of 2.5 percent will be rounded up. Candidates who have at least 1 percent support will appear in an earlier debate, scheduled for 6 p.m.

CNBC’s criteria differs from that of previous debate hosts Fox News and CNN, which allowed the top 10 or 11 candidates, respectively, on the primetime stage.

Four candidates who appeared on the main stage at the first two debates — Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — are currently on the bubble for the CNBC contest, according to HuffPost Pollster's average. (A fifth, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, dropped out of the race shortly after the last debate.)

The Republican debates have been ratings bonanzas for Fox News and CNN, the latter of which launched a two-day countdown clock in the lead-up to its Sept. 16 event.

Fox News drew a record 24 million viewers for its Aug 6 debate, the most of any primary debate ever. Over 23 million people tuned into CNN's debate, making it the highest-rated program in the network's history. 

The cable networks also scored above-average ratings for the 6 p.m. undercard debates, signaling that people remain interested in the second-tier event. Fox News drew 6.1 million viewers and CNN took in 6.3 million, or roughly 10 times its audience on a typical weeknight at 6 p.m. 

CNBC Washington correspondent John Harwood and anchors Carl Quintanilla and Becky Quick will moderate next month's "Your Money, Your Vote" debates, which will be held at the Coors Events Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder. They'll be joined by panelists Rick Santelli, Sharon Epperson, and Jim Cramer.

“We focus on money — from financial markets and economies around the world to the most fundamental pocketbook issues involving savings and retirement,” said Mark Hoffman, CNBC Chairman, said in a release. ”Financial freedom, entrepreneurship and job growth are core to Americans’ decision-making process when they cast their vote.”

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus applauded "CNBC's efforts to ensure that all of our top candidates will have an opportunity to share their views with the American people.”

The RNC had mandated debate hosts pair with conservative media outlets for the event, though CNBC, like Fox News before it, will not have such a partner at its debates. CNN partnered with Salem Media Group and had conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt ask questions of the candidates.