Obama, Romney Complain About Moderator's Role

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 15 2012 1:15 PM

Obama, Romney Apparently Don't Want Tomorrow's Moderator Moderating

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Crews work to complete the stage during a rehearsal for the second US presidential debate to be held at the David Mack Center at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York

Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

The Obama and Romney camps, apparently tired of trying to set debate expectations for each other, have both decided to go after this Tuesday's debate moderator instead.

According to Time, both campaigns have complained to the Commission on Presidential Debates after moderator Candy Crowley made a series of statements on CNN indicating that she may not take the "hands-off" approach that both campaigns want for Tuesday's town hall-style debate. The quote causing the most concern was Crowley's remark that "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?'"

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The two campaigns apparently agreed in early October to a debate with limited moderation—essentially Crowley would facilitate discussions based on questions she'd select from the audience. The town hall format generally focuses on questions from likely voters (the Gallup Organization selects the audience), as opposed to the moderator-directed questions of the most traditional debate format. Although it seems reasonable to expect that a debate moderator would be well within her role to follow up on a voter's question, that doesn't seem to be what the candidates agreed to, according to the agreement obtained by Time:

According to the debate-format language in the agreement, after each audience question and two-minute responses from the candidates, Obama and Romney are expected to have an additional discussion facilitated by Crowley. Yet her participation is meant to be limited. As stated in the document, “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.”

Of course, Time notes, there's absolutely no indication that Crowley also agreed to the terms laid out by the two campaigns. The Commission has said that they'll discuss the agreement with Crowley, while both campaigns apparently prepare for a debate with a little more moderation than they wanted.

The debate is scheduled for Tuesday, October 16 at 9 p.m. ET.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.