Tonight’s presidential debate will be in a town hall format, moderated by CNN’s Candy Crowley. Mark Halperin described for Time how Crowley made both President Obama and Governor Romney nervous.
In a rare example of political unity, both the Romney and Obama campaigns have expressed concern to the Commission on Presidential Debates about how the moderator of this Tuesday’s town hall has publicly described her role, TIME has learned.
While an early-October memorandum of understanding between the Obama and Romney campaigns suggests that CNN’s Candy Crowley would play a limited role in the Tuesday-night session, Crowley, who is not a party to that agreement, has done a series of interviews on her network in which she has suggested that she will assume a broader set of responsibilities. As Crowley put it last week, “Once the table is kind of set by the town-hall questioner, there is then time for me to say, ‘Hey, wait a second, what about X, Y, Z?’”
Crowley is the first woman to preside over a presidential debate since ABC’s Carole Simpson moderated a similar debate between then-President George HW Bush, then-future President Bill Clinton and future crackpot Ross Perot in 1992. In an interview with Talk of the Nation, Simpson suggested there was something sexist in the implication that women can’t come up with questions to ask the candidates, and should be restricted to the town hall format. She thought that this was troublesome, because women make up a majority of the electorate, and the focus on the economy in the first debate, and foreign policy in the last debate means that certain topics (reproductive health, gender equality in the workplace) are less likely to come up.
Simpson’s suggestion was that Crowley should correct for this by going rogue and asking her own questions. Crowley has suggested that’s what she may do tonight. If the goal is to represent the concerns of women, there seems to be an obvious alternative. Crowley could just make sure that the undecided women get to ask as many questions as the undecided men in the town hall debate. That should ensure that their concerns are addressed, to the extent that it is possible in a ninety minute debate.