Romney, Obama campaigns concerned about Crowley’s role as moderator

Dylan Stableford
The Ticket

The moderators of the 2012 presidential and vice presidential debates have been under considerable scrutiny, perhaps more than in any other election cycle.

Now, according to Time magazine, the campaigns of both GOP challenger Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama have expressed concern over how CNN's Candy Crowley, the moderator of Tuesday's town hall debate in Hempstead, N.Y., is approaching her role. In an interview on the news network on Oct. 5, Crowley said she would not be afraid to ask follow-up questions if necessary.

"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 said.

The campaigns sent a memo to the Commission on Presidential Debates claiming they were under the impression that the moderator would play a limited role in the debate's town hall format, as the commission announced in July:

The second presidential debate will take the form of a town meeting, in which citizens will ask questions of the candidates on foreign and domestic issues. Candidates each will have two minutes to respond, and an additional minute for the moderator to facilitate a discussion. The town meeting participants will be undecided voters selected by the Gallup Organization.

[Related: Lehrer's debate moderation mauled by critics]

From the campaigns' memo:

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.

Through a CNN spokeswoman, Crowley declined to comment. "Any questions about debate format should be directed to the Commission on Presidential Debates," the spokeswoman wrote in an email to Yahoo News.

"There are discussions around every debate," Jen Psaki, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, told reporters on Monday. "I'm not going to get into the specifics of those. I will say that the president is looking forward to the debate tomorrow night, looking forward to answering questions from the American people who will be in the audience. But he's prepared for and ready to take questions from wherever they come. And I'll leave it at that."

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

[Watch: 'SNL' skewers VP debate (VIDEO)]

In an email to, CPD co-chairman Mike McCurry wrote that while Crowley has "sole editorial control," the commission's "only issue is that the citizen questioners get their chance to pose the question without reinterpretation from the moderator."

Crowley is the first woman in 20 years to moderate a presidential debate. Last week, ABC News' Martha Raddatz was praised by critics for her moderation of the vice presidential debate. PBS' Jim Lehrer, who moderated the first presidential debate of 2012, was widely criticized for losing control and allowing both candidates—Romney in particular—to "steamroll" him.

Two days later, the commission defended Lehrer's performance in a statement on its website:

The format for the first and fourth presidential debates calls for six 15-minute segments on topics selected and announced in advance by the moderators. After the moderator asks a question, the candidates each have two minutes to answer. After their answers, the moderator's job is to facilitate a conversation on the topic for the balance of the 15 minutes before moving to the next topic. ... Jim Lehrer implemented the format exactly as it was designed by the CPD and announced in July.

[Also read: High school girls who launched campaign for female debate moderator glad Lehrer went first]

The format for the third presidential debate, to be held Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla., will be identical to the first and will focus on foreign policy. CBS' Bob Schieffer will moderate.