Well before the lights go on, CNN faced controversy in staging the highly profitable two-part, 15-candidate event. It tweaked its rules to move businesswoman Carly Fiorina out of the "kids' table" debate and expand the prime-time field to 11 after Fiorina and her backers complained. But CNN so far has not responded to businessman Donald Trump's request that its profits from the debate's lucrative ad sales — the network is reportedly charging $200,000 for a 30 second ad — go to veterans charities.
The prime draw once again will be Trump. Former CNN Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno, now director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, said the network should try to keep the billionaire from dominating.