All is fair in a presidential debate, especially for the moderator.
Candy Crowley, CNN’s chief political correspondent and tonight’s town hall debate moderator, has made it known that she will dispense with the rules about asking her own questions and interject whenever she sees fit.
“They will call on ‘Alice,’ and ‘Alice’ will stand up and ask a question. Both candidates will answer,” she explained on CNN today.
“Then there’s time for a follow-up question, facilitating a discussion, whatever you want to call it. So if Alice asks oranges, and someone answers apples, there’s the time to go, ‘But Alice asked oranges. What’s the answer to that?’ Or, ‘Well, you say this, but what about that?’ “she said.
Comments like those seem to indicate that Crowley will flout the debate rules, according to a memorandum of understanding between the Obama and Romney campaigns, but of which Crowley was not a party.
“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 the candidate comments during the two minute response period,” according to the agreement that leaked Monday and was first reported by Time.
The first town hall took place in 1996. Bill Clinton’s folksy charms allowed him to connect to voters, but the format has bedeviled others.
George H.W. Bush was criticized when cameras caught him looking at his watch. And in addition to limiting Crowley’s comments, the agreement between the campaigns and the Commission on Presidential Debates includes language that would limit camera shots of the candidate not responding to the question.
In 2000, Al Gore was seen as too aggressive, when he walked across the stage and appeared to get in the face of George W. Bush. This year the agreement between candidates stipulates they cannot leave their designated areas of the stage.
In 1988, an agreement between the candidates allowed for Michael Dukakis to stand an elevated platform nicknamed the “pitcher’s mound” located behind his podium, so he would appear as tall as George H. W. Bush. At another debate, one candidate asked cameras not show his bald spot.
Neither Romney nor Obama has a reputation for connecting particularly well with voters in these forums. And both candidates were reportedly resistant to Crowley’s pronouncements that she will flout the rules.