| Jocelyn Augustino, American Media Institute

Romney, Gingrich, Ayotte call on ABC to include Fiorina in debate

Three of the biggest names in Republican politics are backing presidential candidate Carly Fiorina's effort to be included in the major Feb. 6 GOP debate in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, and New Hampshire's own U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte have joined an online petition effort and Twitter campaign to convince debate host ABC News to allow Fiorina on the stage. By mid-afternoon Thursday, Fiorina's campaign was claiming 35,000 petition signatures.

ABC will make its decision Thursday on who will be included. Previously published debate criteria ā€” a complicated mix of current polling and Iowa caucus results ā€” would seem to exclude Fiorina, the former Hewlett Packard executive.

Sen. Ayotte, who has not endorsed any of the GOP presidential candidates, issued a brief statement in support of Fiorina's debate bid.

"Carly Fiorina has campaigned hard in New Hampshire to earn support from voters," Ayotte said. "ABC News' decision to exclude her from the debate on the eve of our primary, while she is outperforming one of the other debate participants in New Hampshire polls undermines our role in the primary process."

For his part, Romney tweeted: "Hey ABC, put Carly Fiorina on the debate stage! She got more Iowa votes than John [Kasich] and Chris [Christie]. Don't exclude only woman."

Former House Speaker and 2012 presidential candidate Newt Gingich also voiced his support for Fiorina on Twitter.

"ABC News should put Carly Fiorina in the new hampshire debate," Gingrich wrote. "She came in ahead of kasich and christie. She has earned a spot."

In the Real Clear Politics polling average for the New Hampshire primary, Fiorina sits in seventh place at 3.5 percent, ahead of Dr. Ben Carson. In the national polling average, Fiorina is ninth, though that average still includes Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who ended his presidential bid on Tuesday.

Under ABC's rules, only six of the remaining nine GOP candidates will be invited to Saturday night's debate.

After a well-received performance in the first undercard debate in August, Fiorina campaigned to be included in the prime-time debate in September.

Host network CNN amended its rules to allow her to participate, reasoning that not enough polling had been conducted following the first debate to fairly judge the number of prime-time participants.