The challenges of debate moderating have grown along with partisan differences



US President Barack Obama and Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney debate on October 16, 2012 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. Undecided voters asked questions during a town hall format.

There continue to be questions about how moderators approach Presidential debates and about whether the extra time President Obama has received in the first two debates indicates moderator bias in his favor. 

I had chalked up the concerns to Republican hyper-partisanship, such as we saw with many Democrats criticizing Jim Lehrer for his moderating — as though Obama would’ve won the first debate if only Lehrer had asserted himself more.   However, even CNN has been doing significant follow-up on its own Candy Crowley’s performance in debate number two. 

Maybe it’s not just hardcore GOP loyalists who are questioning Crowley’s decision-making on when to cut in and when to allow the candidates to take more time. I thought she did pretty well, but there are plenty of critics.

As someone who has moderated hundreds of debates, I thought I’d share my thoughts on what we’ve seen so far in this election. Though I’ve never moderated a Presidential debate, with its incredible level of attention, concern about rules, and demands by campaigns, there are certain fundamentals regardless of the office or issue at stake.


Obama strong, rubber match awaits

In the second of the three Presidential debates, President Obama displayed the passion he lacked the first time around.  He also made his arguments more concisely, and didn't shy away from direct engagement with Mitt Romney.  Snap polls after the debate show most viewers and listeners though Obama won the debate, though the percentages weren't nearly as overwhelming as Romney's advantage last time out.

Will the President's apparent victory show up in the polls as dramatically as Romney's previous win?  What will the stakes be like for next Monday's final, tie-breaking, matchup?



The debate awaits

I’ll be live tweeting @AirTalk tonight during the debate.  Of greatest interest to me about President Obama is whether he’ll be able to crisply make his arguments and maintain a high level of energy for the full 90-minutes.  With Mitt Romney I’ll be looking to see whether he can loosen up in the town hall format and make a good connection with the questioners.

What was most striking for me about the first debate was how strongly Romney played with women.  That had been a huge problem for him throughout the campaign.  In fact, a couple of months ago I joked about the “ten single women in the country who were voting for Romney.”  He found a way to connect with women two weeks ago and he’ll attempt to build on that tonight.  The President, obviously, hopes to reverse his loss.


A great debate

I thoroughly enjoyed the VP debate and its fast paced back-and-forth.  Democrats had to love Joe Biden's energy and willingness to challenge Paul Ryan on almost every point.  Republicans had to love Ryan's poise and discipline in how he handled himself, even as Biden was dismissing him throughout the 90-minutes.

Both of our "AirTalk" political strategists, Democrat Darry Sragow and Republican Jonathan Wilcox, agreed that Biden's performance fired up the Democratic base and provided tremendous relief after the President's flat performance the week before.  However, they also agreed that it wasn't likely to have much effect on the small number of undecided voters still out there.

The passionate performances of the VP candidates certainly sets a higher bar for the next Presidential candidates debate.  Will Obama and Romney up their games on Tuesday?  I suspect most of us will be tuning in to see.


Looking forward to this evening's debate

I know these Presidential debates aren’t debates in the historical sense.  Regardless, I’m looking forward to seeing how both men do on a topic of immense complexity.  Is Mitt Romney going to be more forthcoming about what tax deductions he’d want cut to keep his tax reform plan from ballooning the deficit?  Will President Obama  give more detail about how he would improve the economy, short of a government stimulus that could never get through a GOP Congress?

I’ll be live tweeting during the debate.  Join me @AirTalk #debates.