It's nearly impossible this presidential election season to find issues both campaigns agree on. But veteran politics reporter Mark Halperin may have found one: concern over Tuesday's debate moderator.
According to Halperin, both campaigns have voiced complaints about CNN's Candy Crowley and the way she perceives her role versus the role both candidates agreed she would take when officially signing on for the debate.
The issue revolves around how exactly Crowley will insert herself into the discussion. Because the debate is town hall style, the candidates expect the audience to ask the questions and drive the discussion. But as Halperin notes, Crowley has recently conveyed that she reserves the right to steer the discussion how she sees fit, even editing audience questions to a certain extent.
From Halperin's TIME report:
While an early October memorandum of understanding between the Obama and Romney campaigns and the bipartisan commission sponsoring the debates suggests CNN’s Candy Crowley would play a limited role in the Tuesday-night session, Crowley, who is not a party to that agreement, has done a series of interviews on her network in which she has suggested she will assume a broader set of responsibilities. As Crowley put it last week, “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?’”
Both campaigns, Halperin says, aren't happy with that and have confronted the Commission on Presidential Debates, which oversees the events:
In the view of both campaigns and the commission, those and other recent comments by Crowley conflict with the language the two campaigns agreed to, which delineates a more limited role for the moderator of the town-hall debate. The questioning of the two candidates is supposed to be driven by the audience members themselves — likely voters selected by the Gallup Organization. Crowley’s assignment differs from those of the three other debate moderators, who in the more standard format are supposed to lead the questioning and follow up when appropriate. The town-hall debate is planned for Tuesday at 9 p.m. E.T. at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.
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.
The Commission, both campaigns and CNN declined to comment for the record. Crowley referred all questions about the debate format to the Commission.
Halperin does note that just because the candidates agreed to the format and Crowley's role it doesn't appear that she did.
"So, is there room there to come back to a presidential candidate and say, well, your vice presidential candidate said this?" Crowley told Wolf Blitzer last week. "I’m always kind of looking for the next question…. So there’s opportunity for follow-up to kind of get them to drill down on the subjects that these folks want to learn about in the town hall.”
Read Halperin's full report here.