R.N.C. Rules for First Debate Pose Challenge for Underfunded Candidates

The Republican National Committee on Friday laid out its criteria for candidates to qualify for the first Republican presidential primary debate, establishing a key fund-raising threshold and requiring candidates to pledge to support the eventual party nominee.

The criteria for the debate, scheduled for Aug. 23 in Milwaukee, come as the Republican presidential primary field grows more crowded, with several contenders expected to join the race in the coming days and weeks. A second debate could be held on Aug. 24 if enough candidates qualify, the R.N.C. said in a statement.

To qualify for the stage, candidates must garner support of at least 1 percent in multiple national polls recognized by the committee, and some polling from the early-voting states will count as well. The candidates must also have a minimum of 40,000 unique donors to their campaign, with at least 200 unique donors per state or territory, in 20 states and territories, according to the committee.

The 40,000-donor debate threshold is likely to prove a consequential and costly barrier to some underfunded candidates. Republican campaigns had already been told informally about the criteria, and some were racing to ensure they had enough donors. Some super PACs are spending money for online ads to drive small donations to the campaigns.

The criteria for the additional debates have not been announced. One person briefed on the discussions said there could be an escalation of the donor threshold for later debates, or for the polling averages required.

Two Republicans familiar with the discussions said Gov. Ron DeSantis’s team had wanted a higher threshold than 1 percent, which would have been likely to thin out the stage, giving him a more direct interaction with former President Donald J. Trump, the current Republican front-runner.

Mr. Trump, for his part, has already suggested that he may skip primary debates, claiming that it was not worth his time to debate his rivals because of his polling advantage.

Candidates hoping to debate in the August matchup are also expected to promise not to participate in any debate not approved by the party committee for the rest of the election cycle, and to pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee.

Those who make it onstage will be grouped according to polling, with the highest-polling candidate in the center, the committee said.

Fox News is slated to host the first debate in Milwaukee.

Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.

Katie Glueck is a national political reporter. Previously, she was chief Metro political correspondent, and a lead reporter for The Times covering the Biden campaign. She also covered politics for McClatchy’s Washington bureau and for Politico. @katieglueck

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