Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Candy Crowley ’70 takes strong role in presidential debate

Alumna Candy Crowley ’70 shined before a national audience Tuesday night as she moderated the second presidential debate of the 2012 election cycle. For more than 90 minutes, she guided a conversation between President Barack Obama, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and an audience of undecided voters at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

Crowley, CNN’s chief political correspondent and anchor of State of the Union with Candy Crowley, was tasked with moderating a town hall presidential debate—a challenging format that requires the moderator to manage questions from the audience, answers from the candidates, and any verbal sparring that results as the candidates clash.

Crowley made a strong showing in the debate after some feared that her role, as the first woman to moderate a presidential debate in 20 years, would be limited to inviting audience members to ask their questions. Although both presidential campaigns had agreed not to allow her to pose her own questions, she inserted herself into the debate, forcing each candidate to address issues in the questions and reigning in the discussion when it strayed far from the intended topics.

That power came in part because of her decision to stand during the debate, although initial plans would have given her a chair. “It is so hard to take command of a stage when you’re sitting down and they’re towering over you,” she said in a post-debate interview on CNN. “When I came in and saw this stage, I said, I want to stand. I want to stand up so we’re on the same level.”

When a question about gas prices turned into a debate about overall energy policy, Crowley directed the President back to the central question. “I can tell you that tomorrow morning, a lot of people in Hempstead will wake up and fill up, and they will find that the price of gas is over $4 a gallon,” Crowley said. “Is it within the purview of the government to bring those prices down, or are we looking at the new normal?”

Later, when Romney charged that Obama had blamed the Sept. 11 attacks against the American consulate in Libya on an Internet video instead of calling it a terrorist attack, Crowley helped to move the conversation forward by adding clarification. “(Obama) did call it an act of terror,” she told Romney. “It did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea of there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.”

One of the teenagers who led an effort to ask the Commission on Presidential Debates to select a woman as a moderator this year praised Crowley for a strong performance in the debate. Emma Axelrod wrote for the Poynter Institute:

In my life, I never saw a woman on that stage acting as an authority over the two most potentially powerful men in America. That is, until Tuesday night. … Crowley was a great choice. I loved her follow-ups and thought she did a sound job of keeping the candidates under control.

After the debate, Crowley appeared in late night and early morning shows to talk about the experience and analyze the outcomes of the event. Although her schedule is currently dominated with election coverage, Crowley and the College are working to schedule a visit to campus so she can share insights with current Randolph students.