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Rand Paul: Mistake not to have me in the debate
02:16 - Source: CNN

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Rand Paul is boycotting the GOP debate after he was relegated to the undercard

Paul's interviews have reached a larger audience than the typical non-prime time debate

Charleston CNN  — 

Skipping Thursday’s debate may have been Rand Paul’s savviest political move yet.

The Kentucky senator’s decision to boycott the sixth Republican showdown after being relegated to the earlier undercard round has resulted in far more airtime and significantly larger audiences than Paul could possibly have hoped for at the Fox Business Network debate.

Instead of flying to South Carolina for debate prep, Paul has been on a two-day media tour in New York City, after which he will head to New Hampshire and Iowa. In the last 48 hours, he has done interviews with “The Dr. Oz Show,” Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” and Fox News, as well as multiple interviews with CNN and MSNBC, that were all pegged to his decision to skip the debate.

Based on those show’s averages, the Paul interviews have likely been watched by at least 7 million people total. The last Fox Business undercard debate, in November, averaged 4.7 million viewers.

Thursday’s undercard kicks off at 6:00 p.m. ET, while the main debate begin at 9:00 p.m. – prime time.

The interviews, unlike the debates, have given Paul a free platform to advance his policy proposals and talking points – without having to endure attacks from the likes of Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, who will be on the undercard slate on Thursday. Paul’s “Daily Show” interview on Wednesday night even took place at a lone podium, beneath a sign that read, “GOP Debate: Singles Night.”

To be sure, interviews aren’t debates, and they don’t command nearly the same level of national media attention. But, with few exceptions, the undercards don’t garner a great deal of press, either. The next day’s coverage focuses on the main event. When Paul has made headlines, he has done so because of his spats with higher-tier candidates like Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie.

By boycotting a debate where he would receive scant notice anyway, Paul has been able to create a week-long media narrative that has rewarded him with free press attention usually reserved for candidates doing better in the polls.

In addition to the television appearances, Paul has also done national radio interviews with Glenn Beck and Laura Ingraham, and is scheduled to have an interview with Sean Hannity on Friday.

He has also been given a platform to advance the idea that he was unfairly banned from the main stage, while laying the blame for that on conservatives’ favorite straw-man: the media.

Fox Business Network announced last month that its January 14 debate would include the top six candidates based on the average of the five most recent national polls, as well as those who finish in the top five in Iowa or New Hampshire. Paul failed to meet that criteria, but has argued that other polls should have been taken into account.

“People have to realize that what the media is doing here is pre-deciding an election,” Paul told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on “New Day” on Thursday.

“I have an important voice. What do you think the liberty movement, the liberty voters in the Republican Party, are thinking now? That the Republican Party in league with the media networks is saying we’re not going to let the liberty candidate on the stage,” he said.

While the rest of the candidates are attending Thursday night’s main and undercard debates, Paul will be front and center for another “single’s night” – livestreaming his own national town hall online from New York.