Chris Christie’s back among the leads in the next episode of this TV season’s favorite reality series, The GOP Debates. CNN, which is airing the next episode, on December 15, this morning announced its casting criteria. Nine candidates look likely to make the cut for the RNC-sanctioned debate at The Venetian in Las Vegas, the network said: Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Rand Paul is however, a bubble-dweller at this point, and may be sent to the kids’ table.

Good news for Sen. Lindsey Graham and former Gov. George Pataki as well. They’re back in the debate, after getting a call back at the last GOP debate, which was telecast on Fox Business Network. Graham and Pataki will qualify for the kids’ table, and it looks as though they will join former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Candidates must meet one of three criteria in polls conducted between October 29 and December 13 and recognized by CNN, the news net said: An average of at least 3.5% nationally; at least 4% in Iowa; or at least 4% in New Hampshire. That equal time NBC is going to shell out to requesting GOP candidates on its affiliate stations in those markets will come just in the nick of time for those low-pollers!

CNN is swapping out Jake Tapper for Wolf Blitzer as moderator of this GOP debate; Tapper moderated CNN’s first GOP debate; it clocked 23M viewers. But Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash, who was heard from briefly at that Tapper-anchored debate, is back, as is Salem talk radio host Hugh Hewitt.  Salem Radio Network will be the exclusive radio provider for the debate.