On Monday, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that the three debates between President Barack Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney will be hosted by Candy Crowley, PBS’s Jim Lehrer and CBS’s Bob Schieffer. ABC’s Martha Raddatz will host the vice presidential debate.
In October, CNN’s Crowley will become the first female presidential debate moderator in over 20 years – and she may have a trio of high school girls to thank in part.
Crowley’s appointment comes amidst a call from New Jersey high school students to put a female moderator on a presidential debate stage for the first time since 1992, when ABC’s Carole Simpson moderated a presidential debate between George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot. The girls started a Change.org petition to convince the Commission to select a female moderator for one of the four debates scheduled before the election in November.
The commission didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the petition and its role in the moderator selection.
Elena Tsemberis, who started the Change.org position along with friends Emma Axelrod and Sammi Siegel, said she was at cross country practice with Axelrod when she heard that Crowley had been chosen as a moderator. “This was definitely an amazing way to finish a strenuous practice,” she said. Axelrod, who also runs cross country, was with Tsemberis when the two of them found out. “We’re so, so excited, we’re so glad we’ll be able to let America see a female moderator up on stage.”
Though the girls couldn’t even make it past security at the Commission on Presidential Debates’ offices in Washington, D.C., earlier in the summer, Tsemberis said the experience didn’t discourage them. “We were more hopeful after we were denied,” she said. “The fact that they refused to see three teenage girls reflected poorly on them that they wouldn’t acknowledge our existence, so we hoped they would turn it around by choosing a female moderator.”
Axelrod agreed, saying that she thought the publicity their march garnered certainly helped their cause. “We wanted to get the public as frustrated as we were about not being able to reach the commission in hopes that it would help convince them to pick a woman, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that played a pretty big role in their decision,” she said.
“This is just so exciting that me, Emma and Sammi – we’re three young teenage Americans that are more interested about what’s going on in the world than what’s on TV and what’s in magazines, and we were able to put our smarts together and accomplish something,” she said.
Tsemberis congratulated Crowley on her accomplishment, saying she hopes to attend the town hall debate on Oct. 16. Axelrod said she would “definitely” be watching the debates, since “what happens during those debates will have a very big impact on what happens in our country, and that impacts every American’s life.
While she has no specific plans in place yet, Tsemberis says this success has only encouraged her to continue her activism. “We’re thinking of ways we can try making a change,” she said. “We’re always going to keep helping Americans and women in our country.”