When CNN’s Candy Crowley was announced as the moderator of the second presidential debate back in August, she was lauded for being the first female to be selected for that honor since ABC’s Carole Simpson in 1992. That seemed to be enough of a historical footnote to recognize her role as referee — typically a thankless, forgettable role that is rightfully overshadowed by the rhetorical combatants. But after Jim Lehrer was roundly criticized for being a pushover in the first debate and Martha Raddatz seemed to respond to his passive performance by asserting herself more boldly in the vice-president’s debate, there’s suddenly a lot of pressure on Crowley to strike the right balance.
Her job won’t be easy. The format of tonight’s debate is town-hall style, meaning she’ll have to juggle questions from audience members as well as the more freewheeling back-and-forth between the candidates. Adding to her challenge are rival camps who have united in their insistence that she limit her input once the debate begins. Perhaps fearing a Raddatz-style grip, Democrats and Republicans have negotiated behind the scenes and attempted to dictate a hands-off policy to Crowley. According to Time magazine, Romney and Obama agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding stating that “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.”
The Understanding was quickly derided in the media as an attempt by the candidates to control their messages, but an undeterred Crowley appeared with Wolf Blitzer on The Situation Room yesterday and promised that she would ask follow-ups when she saw fit, especially when the candidates sidestep a question. “As was the case in the Charlie Gibson town hall meeting [in 2004] and the Tom Brokaw town hall meeting [in 2008] in presidential campaigns past, there was a time after that for follow-up and for furthering the discussion,” she said.
Tomorrow night, there will be immediate media speculation about who won the debate. In this election cycle, Crowley is sure to be graded as harshly as the candidates.
Candy Crowley Personnel File
Current Title: CNN’s chief political correspondent and anchor of State of the Union with Candy Crowley. She’s been with CNN since 1987.
Twitter feed: @crowleyCNN
First Journalism Job: General assignment reporter for Associated Press Radio (She eventually covered the White House as the AP’s top correspondent in Washington.)
First TV Job: NBC hired her in 1986 to cover Washington politics
Hometown(s): Raised in St. Louis and Chappaqua, N.Y.
Education: Randolph-Macon Woman’s College 1970 (English and Economics)
Fashion statement: Conspicuous necklaces. When Crowley’s two sons were young, they got a kick out of seeing their mom on TV wearing necklaces that they had made or bought for her. “Over the years it snowballed,” Crowley said in 2009. “Parents, brothers, friends, and my nieces who call me and say ‘Aunt Candy, you had on my necklace today.’ … I could not for a minute pick out a favorite. Literally, every time I put one on, I think of who gave it to me and it makes me happy.”
Hobbies: Transcendental meditation
In a Nutshell: “She’s probing and difficult and tough,” Karen Hughes, former political adviser to George W. Bush, told the Washington Post in 2010. “But there’s not the air of confrontation that you get from some interviewers.”
[Correction: An earlier version of this post listed Crowley's alma mater as Randolph-Macon College. Her actual college, Randolph-Macon Woman's College is now called Randolph College.]