The second of three presidential debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will kick off Tuesday night -- and with it will come increased scrutiny of the person tasked with keeping order as the candidates spar for 90-plus minutes.
Candy Crowley, host of CNN’s Sunday morning talk show “State of the Union,” will be the first woman to moderate a presidential debate in two decades -- and only the second woman to do so ever -- when she presides over the town hall-style debate at Hofstra University. She has already made waves by stating her intention to assert herself and prod the candidates’ responses when necessary.
“I understand that I’m there. I’m not a fly on the wall,” she told Politico. “We don’t want the candidates to spout talking points. That doesn’t help voters. ... I’m going to react organically to what’s happening.”
And like her moderating predecessor’s this year -- Jim Lehrer and Martha Raddatz -- Crowley is being accused of being too left-leaning by conservative pundits who believe it will be all but impossible for Romney to get a fair shot under her moderation.
On Tuesday, NewsBusters’ Tim Graham, who acknowledged Crowley’s decades-long tenure in the field of political news, wrote that the moderator “still fits within the CNN media-elite mold of liberalism.” He cited a recent comment from Crowley, who likened Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as some sort of “political death wish.”
Breitbart’s William Bigelow declared, “Candy Crowley will shill for Obama,” citing several ambiguously pro-Obama comments she supposedly made during her on-air interviews.
Aside from unfreezing a caveman from the Alps, it’s difficult to imagine finding a moderator who would not bring some amount of political baggage into a presidential debate. Though Lehrer and Raddatz were attacked primarily for a presumed liberal bias, Crowley is getting heat from both sides.
As Time magazine’s Mark Halperin reported on Sunday, both the Obama and Romney camps have voiced concerns to the Commission on Presidential Debates about the forceful nature with which Crowley described her role in Tuesday’s debate.
For the town hall format, the audience is made up of about 80 undecided voters chosen from a Gallup poll. The voters will be permitted to ask the candidates questions, but, unlike in years past, the questions must be submitted to Crowley beforehand, and the moderator will pick which questions get asked.
Crowley has said that she will also ask follow-up questions at her own discretion, but that statement has drawn harsh criticism from both camps. The Obama and Romney campaigns have told the commission that they want her role to be limited, according to Time, which posted a “Memorandum of Understanding” between the two campaigns.
According to Time, the memo states: “In managing the two-minute comment periods, the moderator will not rephrase the question or open a new topic … The moderator will not ask follow-up questions or comment on either the questions asked by the audience or the answers of the candidates during the debate or otherwise intervene in the debate except to acknowledge the questioners from the audience or enforce the time limits, and invite candidate comments during the two-minute response period.”
Nevertheless, Crowley has not backed down, vowing to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday to push discussions between the candidates and the voters as far as those conversations need to go.
“There will be questioners to the right and left of me and in front of the candidates,” she said. “And they will have the questions ... there is a time after that for follow-up and for furthering the discussion.”
The second presidential debate will air on Tuesday from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.