The platonic ideal of a presidential-debate moderator is like the psychoanalyst who uses silence as a therapeutic tool. He or she sits out of sight of the patient, opens the session with a general question, and doesn't say much beyond “Tell me more about that” and “Time’s up.”
In the real world, that model doesn’t always cut it. A good debate is one that sheds light—not just on candidates’ personalities and temperaments, but also on their records and plans. A moderator needs to seize what opportunities become available.
This requires flexibility, sharp-elbowed questions, and dogged follow-ups. A debate cannot be considered a success if voters are hit with an avalanche of unchallenged claims, counterclaims, numbers, and misrepresentations.
Some debate experts have nothing but praise for Jim Lehrer’s restraint in the first presidential debate. A moderator should set the table for discussion, they say, not confront participants or get in the way. Nor should the presider be required to clear things up.
From the viewer’s standpoint, however, Lehrer achieved mixed results. Without focused follow-ups and strict enforcement of time limits, Lehrer’s style can allow candidates to meander. That certainly wasn't how Martha Raddatz of ABC News handled the vice presidential debate. She was energetic and participatory.
The next presidential debate on Tuesday will have a town-hall format, with everyday Americans asking questions, and history suggests they won’t be pointed. Yet CNN’s Candy Crowley, the moderator, said she plans to shape the debate. She is studying “the holes in their arguments,” as she put it—evidence that the next moderator intends to mix it up. Read more
NATIONAL JOURNAL’S PRESIDENTIAL RACE REPORT
Campaigns Attempt to Set Debate Expectations
[National Journal, 10/14/12] While both presidential candidates prepare for Tuesday’s town hall-style debate, campaign surrogates took to the Sunday talk shows in the hope of setting expectations for the second matchup between President Obama and Mitt Romney.
Obama, Romney Hunker Down for Debate Prep
[Associated Press, 10/14/12] Both presidential candidates are taking time off from the campaign trail on Sunday in order to prepare for their next debate.
Presidential Campaigns Spar Over Libya Attack
[National Journal, 10/14/12] Following a vice presidential debate this week that concentrated heavily on foreign policy, the presidential campaigns clashed hard on Sunday over the administration's response to the terrorist attack in Libya.
Campaigns Mine Personal Lives to Get Out Vote
[The New York Times, 10/14/12] Strategists associated with both presidential campaigns say they have access to incredible amounts of voters' personal information, using it to influence people like a credit card company or retailer would.
Laughing Biden Highlighted in Romney Ad
[National Journal, 10/14/12] The Romney campaign and several of its supporters took issue with Vice President Joe Biden often smirking and laughing during last week’s debate. Now, the campaign is using Biden’s grin to attack the Obama ticket in a new ad released on Sunday. Biden's son, Beau, said on Sunday that his laughter is only an issue because he won the debate.
Ed Gillespie Challenged On Studies Supporting Romney Tax Plan
[Huffington Post, 10/14/12] Romney campaign senior adviser Ed Gillespie was challenged on Sunday for six studies he cited supporting Romney’s tax plan. Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace said, “These are hardly non-partisan studies.”
Ryan, Romney Blast White House on China Currency Manipulation
[National Journal, 10/13/12] Romney and Ryan used separate appearances in Ohio on Saturday to continue their attack on the Obama administration over Chinese currency manipulation. The two attempted to tie the administration’s actions to manufacturing, which is an important generator of blue-collar jobs in that state.
Topics for Third Debate Announced
[CNN, 10/13/12] CBS’s Bob Schieffer, the moderator of the third presidential debate, has selected the five topics he plans to discuss with Obama and Romney on Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla.
Obama, Romney Campaigns: Pieces to Victory
[Columbus Dispatch, 10/14/12] The Dispatch highlights the six distinctive political regions that candidates must woo in order to win Ohio. But on Sunday shows, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Romney doesn't have to win the state to win the White House.
Poll: Presidential Race Close in Arizona
[CNN, 10/13/12] Obama and Romney are neck-and-neck in Arizona, according to a new Rocky Mountain poll released on Saturday. Among likely voters, Obama is polling at 44 percent, two points higher than Romney and falling within the margin of error.
Gillespie Defends Romney's Abortion Policies
[National Journal, 10/14/12] The Romney campaign attempted to clarify the Republican nominee’s position on abortion after campaign officials offered differing positions this week.
Clinton, Springsteen to Rally for Obama in Ohio, Iowa
[Cleveland Plain Dealer, 10/13/12] On Thursday, Bruce Springsteen will join former President Bill Clinton at an Obama rally in Parma, Ohio. The campaign announced later that the iconic New Jersey rocker would add another stop that same day in Ames, Iowa.
Obama Campaign Says It Surpasses 4 Million Donors
[Associated Press, 10/13/12] Obama campaign field director Jeremy Bird announced in an email to supporters on Saturday that the campaign had reached four million donors, a record for presidential campaigns.
Podcast: Citizens United Levels Playing Field; Debates Don’t Matter
[National Journal, 10/14/12] Hotline Executive Editor Josh Kraushaar and Columbia political science professor Robert Erikson were guests on this week's Political Landscape, National Journal’s weekly podcast. Listen to the podcast.
Stephen Colbert on Presidential Politics
[National Journal, 10/14/12] Stephen Colbert stepped out of character on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday to discuss the role of satire in the political process, how he goes about constructing his show and his feelings about the presidential race.
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