- Martin O'Malley has been invited to attend a Democratic debate this weekend
- The former Maryland governor ran the risk of failing to qualify based on his small poll numbers
Charleston, South Carolina (CNN)Martin O'Malley has dodged a bullet.
Despite averaging just 4.6% in Iowa, the Democratic presidential hopeful has been invited to participate in the network's Sunday debate, according to NBC News.
NBC News announced last week that candidates would need an average of at least 5% either nationally or in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina. But an NBC executive familiar with the criteria previously told CNN that the network would round up from 4.5% if necessary.
So O'Malley barely cleared the bar. The former Maryland governor's national average, as well as his averages in New Hampshire and South Carolina, would not have qualified him for the debate.
NBC News, too, is saved from headaches: In the wake of last week's announcement, O'Malley had railed against NBC News executives for treating the Democratic primary like an episode of "The Apprentice," its reality television show formerly hosted by Donald Trump.
"The news of the day is that some executives at NBC think that the next debate maybe should only have two candidates instead of three," O'Malley said. "Well I've got news for them. This election is not up to NBC executives, not up to pollsters, it's up to you, the people of Iowa."
Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, who are running neck-and-neck in Iowa, and far ahead of O'Malley, had called on NBC News to include him in the debate.
"We believe all three candidates should participate in the South Carolina debate, and oppose any criteria that might leave someone excluded," Brian Fallon, the press secretary for Clinton's campaign, tweeted.
"What's fair is fair," Bernie Sanders wrote on Twitter. "All three of the Democratic candidates for president should be on the debate stage. Period."
NBC News used a Des Moines Register poll released December 14; a Quinnipiac poll and a Loras poll released December 15; an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released January 10, and a Quinnipiac poll released January 12. NBC criteria stated that the polls had to be approved by NBC News and published before January 14.
In its press release, NBC noted that Sunday's debate in Charleston "will be the presidential hopefuls' final chance to face each other directly and make their cases to a national audience before the first ballots are cast in Iowa and New Hampshire."