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Campaigns fear Crowley's moderator role ahead of debates

As the first woman moderator for a presidential debate in two decades, CNN's Candy Crowley is facing surprising criticism from both the Romney and Obama campaig
CNN’s Candy Crowley (Photo: Edward M. Pio Roda/ Associated Press)
CNN’s Candy Crowley

As the first woman moderator for a presidential debate in two decades, CNN's Candy Crowley is facing surprising criticism from both the Romney and Obama campaigns.

Mark Halperin reported on Morning Joe Monday that both presidential campaigns have expressed concern over the active role the widely-respected Crowley plans to take as moderator of Tuesday’s second presidential debate.

Crowley, CNN’s chief political correspondent, host of State of the Union, and a veteran Washington reporter, was selected to moderate Tuesday’s presidential debate. The debate takes a town hall format, meaning that the public submits questions in advance, which Crowley can then select to pose to the candidates in person. After President Obama and Mitt Romney respond, Crowley can facilitate a follow-up discussion. The way in which that portion of the night is handled is causing anxiety in Chicago and Boston.

Crowley has given several interviews in the last few days expressing a desire to hold the candidates accountable for their statements during the debate. For example, Crowley told CNN the following: "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?'"

Calling it a “complicated issue,” and “unique challenge” for Crowley, given the town hall format, Halperin said both the Commission on Presidential Debates, which hosts the debates, and the campaigns, “envision a much more limited role than they’ve heard her describe.”

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A memo from the campaigns’ lawyers obtained by Halperin and dated Oct. 3 suggests that the Commission and the campaigns agree that in this debate the “moderator will not rephrase the question or open a new topic…The moderator will not ask follow-up questions.”

Yet, it was less than two weeks ago that moderator Jim Lehrer was criticized for losing control of the first presidential debate and failing to keep the candidates on task and on time.

Writing on Halperin reported that the campaigns lodged a complaint with the Commission, asking it to ensure that Crowley, essentially, knows her place. From

After Crowley made her “x, y, z” remarks to Suzanne Malveaux on October 5, the two campaign counsels, Bob Bauer for President Obama and Ben Ginsberg of the Romney campaign, jointly reached out to the Commission to express concern that the moderator’s comments seemed in direct conflict with the terms of their agreement. The Commission sent back word that they would discuss the matter with Crowley and reconfirm her function. It is not known if such a conversation has taken place, however.

ABC’s Martha Raddatz was also criticized in the lead up to the vice presidential debate she moderated when it was revealed Obama had attended her wedding more than 20 years ago. Post-debate, Raddatz was praised for her turn as a moderator, including her toughness and fair-mindedness.

“Candy’s a pro and I think she understands the goal,” Halperin added on Morning Joe. “The real question is how many of those audience questions they get to.”