RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
One of the many people running for president this year has decided to pack it in. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry went off into the sunset on Friday. But the other Republican candidates ride on, heading westward to their second official debate this week in California. And the stage is going to be a bit more crowded with former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina qualifying for the top-tier event. NPR's Sarah McCammon is traveling with Fiorina's campaign in New Hampshire. She joins me now. Thanks so much for being with us, Sarah.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: I imagine the Fiorina campaign is feeling pretty good right about now, getting that debate slot.
MCCAMMON: Yeah, it's something that they've been pushing for, and they got their wish. She's going to be on the big stage this week. Fiorina was kind of the breakout star in the second-tier debate last month. She got a lot of attention on social media that night, and she saw her poll numbers pick up, but not quite enough of a boost to get onto the big stage for this debate.
Because - this is a little complicated - but CNN's original criteria included polls from before that big performance. They did change the rules and allow her to be in the debate based on her current standing in the polls. So she has gotten a lot more success and attention lately, but it still hasn't been quite enough to get her to the level of, you know, Donald Trump or Ben Carson, who are a couple of other outsider candidates who've been performing really well. So, Wednesday really will be a big moment for her, and she needs to keep the momentum coming.
MARTIN: Donald Trump is the front-runner going into this debate. He has tended to go on the attack towards any candidate he feels threatened by. He recently made a dig at Carly Fiorina. Remind us what that was and how she has responded.
MCCAMMON: Yeah, well, Donald Trump told a Rolling Stone reporter, as Fiorina appeared on TV, he said, look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Fiorina has not hesitated to respond to that on the campaign trail. She spoke to a group of Republican women in Arizona this weekend, and she said, this is the face of a 61-year-old woman. I am proud of every year and every wrinkle. And according to several reports, that got a huge response from the crowd. In New Hampshire yesterday, where I am, she also alluded to Trump's comments and said she's looking forward to the debate. I asked her how she plans to handle him on the stage, and she said, we'll see what happens.
MARTIN: We mentioned Rick Perry dropping out of the race. He was supposed to be in the second tier of the debate on Wednesday. What will that mean for that group of candidates?
MCCAMMON: Well, it creates a really small stage for those on the bottom tier. You know, last time there were 10 in the top and seven in the bottom. That shifted to 11 and four between Fiorina moving up, Perry dropping out, and then, Jim Gilmore didn't even make the cut for the bottom-tier debate this time. So on that stage will be Rick Santorum, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal and George Pataki, just four people and, you know, not really the greatest visual with just four on a stage.
They will have more time, though, to make an impression on voters. I happened to see Pataki yesterday in New Hampshire, and, you know, he said he's pleased to have more time. But, really, for all four of them, the challenge will be to see if they can have a breakout moment and move up into that already very crowded top tier going forward.
MARTIN: NPR's Sarah McCammon joining us from Portsmouth, N.H., with the campaign of Carly Fiorina. Thanks so much, Sarah.
MCCAMMON: Thank you.
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