US Presidential Election 2012

Worries over moderator ahead of second US presidential debate

Candy Crowley intends to press candidates with follow-up questions in presidential debate No 2

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2012, 4:55am

The second presidential debate may have the look of a town hall, with voters surrounding the candidates and posing the questions.

But the degree to which it is a casual conversation between candidates and voters or a tough grilling on the issues will be largely up to one woman - Candy Crowley.

The CNN anchor and debate moderator appears to have caused some anxiety within both campaigns with her comments about how she plans to approach her role in the second debate, scheduled for this morning, Hong Kong time.

Crowley has said in repeated interviews that she plans to ask follow-up questions and press candidates on issues they may have conveniently left out of the answers.

Time Magazine's Mark Halperin writes that the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney feel Crowley's views conflict with an agreement about debate mechanics worked out between the two parties, which states that the moderator's role should be limited.

"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," the memo said, according to Time.

While this may have been the agreement worked out between the campaigns, it is not something signed by Crowley or the Commission on Presidential Debates. Asked last week about whether Crowley has agreed to any terms, a commission official said she had broad discretion on how to run the debate.

Other than the basic format - the two-minute time allotment for each answer, rebuttal and discussion - "we've not given any restrictions to the moderator," said Peter Eyre, a senior adviser to the commission.

The Obama campaign didn't deny the Time report.

"I'm not going to get into the specifics of the negotiations," campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Virginia, where the president is preparing for the debate.

"But, obviously this is a town hall, which means the questions will be coming from the American people in the audience. But if the questions come from other sources, he's happy to address those questions as well."

The voters in the audience may do the questioning, but there's no doubt Crowley is running the show. She can ask follow-up questions and also decides which questions get asked.

Participating voters will be asked to submit questions to her in the hours before the debate, Eyre said. Crowley will then weed through them and decide which voters to call on. The voters won't know in advance if their question has been picked.

"The campaigns don't know ahead of time, the participants will not know ahead of time," Eyre said.