Format changes for make-or-break US debate

October 16, 2012 6:41 am
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The format first used 20 years ago presents the clearest chance of the three showdowns for Obama and Romney to address American voters face-to-face as they ask questions about domestic and foreign policy/FILE
HEMPSTEAD, New York, Oct 16 – The “town hall” meeting that pits President Barack Obama against Mitt Romney on Tuesday could well be the most engaging of their debates — provided the moderator takes control as she has pledged.

CNN’s Candy Crowley will be in the hot seat for the debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York in front of about 80 undecided likely voters selected by polling group Gallup.

The format first used 20 years ago presents the clearest chance of the three showdowns for Obama and Romney to address American voters face-to-face as they ask questions about domestic and foreign policy.

The two campaigns, however, apparently have agreed in a memo to try and limit the role of Crowley at the debate, fearful that she might use the opportunity to steer audience members’ questions or veer off-topic.

“In managing the two-minute comment periods, the moderator will not rephrase the question or open a new topic,” according to a copy of the memo obtained by TIME magazine and posted in part on its website Sunday.

“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,” except to acknowledge questioners, enforce time limits or invite responses.

There is no evidence Crowley is part of the agreement, and she has stressed her intent to broaden out the discussion if and when needed.

“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 and Z? Or you said this or you said that,'” Crowley told her own network earlier this month.

Crowley will meet with audience members before the debate, when they will tell her their intended questions.

“She will have the sole responsibility of figuring out which questions will be asked, the order of the questions, and she’ll call on the citizen participants,” said Peter Eyre, media liaison to the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has sponsored each debate since 1988.

The first debate, in Denver, Colorado, featured Obama and Romney standing at podiums with a moderator seated at a table, and the audience was told to remain silent throughout the 90-minute event.

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