By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - CNN changed its rules on Tuesday for the next Republican presidential debate in a way that could give former business executive Carly Fiorina a chance to take the stage with the main contenders for the party's 2016 presidential nomination.
The cable network, which is sponsoring the Sept. 16 debate, said any candidate who ranks in the top 10 in polling since the first debate on Aug. 6 would be included in the next prime-time debate.
CNN originally had planned to include polling data dating to July 16 to determine the participants, but Fiorina criticized that plan because it would not have taken into account her surge in support since the first debate.
Fiorina was widely viewed as the winner of the so-called "undercard" debate of low-polling candidates that took place hours before the higher-ranking rivals competed in Cleveland.
"In the event that any candidate is polling in the top 10 in an average of approved national polls released between August 7th and September 10th, we will add those candidates to our top tier debate, even if those candidates did not poll in the top 10 in an average of approved national polls between July 16th and September 10th," CNN said in a statement.
CNN said the adjustment might mean additional candidates would participate in the debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus welcomed the step.
"I applaud CNN for recognizing the historic nature of this debate and fully support the network’s decision to amend their criteria," he said.
Retired brain surgeon Ben Carson, another Republican who has gained ground in the 17-strong pack of candidates chasing front-runner Donald Trump, also said he was pleased by the changes. He urged CNN to allow all the candidates to appear in the prime-time debate.
"Carly has proven her viability and standing and deserves the same platform as the rest of the candidates," Carson said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)