Both presidential candidates were primed to come out swinging at Tuesday night’s debate, so it was left to moderator Candy Crowley to keep them on task.
As both Mitt Romney and President Obama tried to flout the time limits to get their points across, Crowley stepped in with her firm, practiced CNN anchor voice:
Governor Romney, there’ll be plenty of chances to go on, but I want to — we have all these folks… you certainly will have lots of time here coming up. I want to move you on…
The irony here, of course, is that the day prior to the debate, both campaigns expressed concern that it would be Crowley breaking the rules of the debate format, not the candidates. Crowley is the first female moderator for a presidential debate since 1992.
The Romney and Obama campaigns said they were afraid Crowley was going to be too aggressive in her moderating role, rather than letting the voters lead the night, as is expected during this type of town hall format in which the public submits all the questions to the candidates.
In fact, nearly a dozen voters stood up at Hofstra University Tuesday night to pepper the candidates with questions ranging from tax policy to equal pay. Yet, that didn’t mean Crowley stood passively by.
Crowley also sought to get the candidates to answer the voter-posed questions more directly, rather than with practiced talking points that were a highlight of the face-off between the pair on Oct. 3 in Denver. Beginning with the very first question— a college student’s plea for post-graduation work— Crowley threw it back to the candidates to be more specific.
“Let me ask you for a more immediate answer, beginning with Mr. Romney…Just quickly, what can you do?”
When Obama launched into a speech on his energy policy after an audience member asked about the government’s role in gas prices, Crowley sought to rein him in.
“Mr. President, let me just see if I can move you to the gist of this question, which is are we looking at the new normal? I can tell you that tomorrow morning, a lot of people in Hempstead will wake up and fill up, and they will find that the price of gas is over $4 a gallon. Is it within the purview of the government to bring those prices down, or are we looking at the new normal?”
As the two men bickered over each other and pointed questions (and fingers) directly to their competitor— another rule violation—Crowley proved adept at knowing when to let them continue to duke it out and when to interject saying, “We’re going to move you along now.”
Arguably the most-talked about Crowley moment of the debate was perhaps her most soft-spoken. As Romney sought to trot out his accusation that the Obama administration didn't label the Benghazi consulate attack a terrorist attack soon enough, Crowley corrected him after he again posed a question to the president.
"The guts it took for Candy [Crowley], even in crystalline memory, knowing he [Obama] had said 'act of terror' at the Rose Garden... if she had been wrong on that, the hell she would have taken from all these media-watchers from the right," said msnbc's Chris Matthews.
Conservatives are upset with Crowley anyway, saying her correction of Romney’s facts “was out of line.” Romney surrogate, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, called Crowley “terrible,” and said she “had no business being a fact-checker.”
Critics also faulted Crowley with giving Obama a few minutes advantage in airtime, despite Crowley holding both candidates in check and admonishing them for running roughshod over the countdown clock.
ABC's Martha Raddatz also received high marks for her moderation of the vice presidential debate on Oct. 10.