Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Sunday he has qualified for the first GOP primary debate, which will take place Wednesday in Milwaukee. Hutchinson joins a crowd of White House hopefuls looking for a breakout moment onstage.
“I’m pleased to announce that we have met all the criteria that the RNC set to be on the debate stage. We’ve met the polling criteria and now we’ve met the 40,000 individual donor criteria,” Hutchinson told CNN’s Kasie Hunt on “State of the Union.”
Hutchinson said he had submitted 42,000 individual donors to the Republican National Committee.
To qualify for the debate, candidates must have at least 40,000 unique donors, with at least 200 unique donors per state, and must reach at least 1% in three national polls meeting the RNC’s requirements or at least 1% in two national polls and two polls from separate early voting states.
They are also expected to sign a loyalty pledge expressing their commitment to unite and back the eventual Republican nominee, regardless of who that is.
Hutchinson, a vocal critic of GOP front-runner and former President Donald Trump, has pushed back against the pledge, saying he did not think it should be a requirement to participate in the debates. But he told Hunt on Sunday that he will sign it, saying that he’s “confident that Donald Trump’s not going to be the nominee.”
Hutchinson also said he expects the debate to be “even more important without Donald Trump on the stage because this is the first time voters are going to be able to contrast the candidates and their positions.”
The former Arkansas governor had previously met the polling threshold but lagged in meeting the donor requirement. His campaign announced Friday it was raffling off movie tickets to attract sufficient contributors.
Hutchinson has been among the most vocal critics of the RNC’s debate qualification rules and said last month that some of the inventive gambits by his fellow candidates to attract the requisite donors “illustrate how silly this whole concept is.”
Sunday’s announcement, which comes just days ahead of the first GOP debate, will put Hutchinson onstage with the six other candidates who have qualified.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and South Carolina Gov. Tim Scott have all qualified so far. Trump, who leads the GOP race, is expected to skip the debate and sit for an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
In an interview with CNN’s Jim Acosta on Saturday, Hutchinson called Trump’s decision to skip the debate a “mistake.”
“It looks to me like he’s just saying, ‘I’m more important than the debate. I’m more important than the party. I’m more important than presenting and defending my position for the American people.’ I think it’s a mistake on his part,” Hutchinson said.
Also on Sunday, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel told Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo that she’s “still holding out hope that President Trump will come. I think it’s so important that the American people hear from all the candidates.”
She added that more candidates could qualify for a spot on the stage Wednesday.
“We’re at seven right now that have officially qualified … and then we’ve got some that are on the cusp, so we’re going to be looking at polls the next few days. There are three or four that are waiting for 1% in one more national poll to make that debate stage,” McDaniel said.
This story has been updated with additional details.