With less than 48-hours to go before the big night, arguments over the rules and procedures for the presidential next debate are already underway. Believe it or not, though, the Obama and Romney campaigns aren't arguing with each other. They're going after the bipartisan commission sponsoring the debate and expressing some concern that Candy Crowley, the designated moderator for Tuesday night's debate might overstep her bounds a bit. Crowley, it seems, has been running her mouth a little bit lately about how she'll conduct the business at the town hall-style debate. "Once the table is kind of set by the town hall questioner," Crowley said in an interview last week, "there is then time for me to say, 'Hey, wait a second, what about x, y, z?'"
Indeed, the terms that the Obama and Romney campaigns agreed up on a few weeks ago say nothing about the moderator taking a question and running with it. But since Crowley never agreed to these terms. According to a memo acquired by Time, the moderator is allowed to guide discussion after an audience member asks a questions but is not allowed to "rephrase the question or open a new topic … [or] ask follow-up questions or comment on either the questions asked by the audience or the answers of the candidates." In effect, the commission will do its best to make sure Crowley follows the rules. The memo reads, "The Commission shall provide each moderator with a copy of this agreement and shall use its best efforts to ensure that the moderators implement the terms of this agreement."
This wouldn't really be so much of an issue if town hall debate moderators hadn't acted out in the past. In 2008, Tom Brokaw caught flak for asking too many his own questions questions and redirecting audience questions too far from the original topic. Then again, it could just be the tremendous amount of pressure on each candidate to perform well this debate. Mitt Romney surely wants to hold on to the momentum he gained after dominating Obama in the first debate, and Barack Obama definitely wants to come out of his corner swinging. Both men surely know that the blame-the-moderator excuse isn't going to fly after the dust as already settled, so maybe they're looking for an I-told-you-so moment if and when the worst case scenario plays out. This is all assuming that Crowley does actually overdo it a little bit. She might do exactly what she's supposed to and then (gasp!) the candidates' performances will just have to speak for themselves.