Tonight CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley will moderate the second presidential debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Crowley is the first female to moderate a presidential debate since Carole Simpson of ABC News moderated 1992 debate between President George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot. The event will be held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. in front of an audience of 80 undecided voters, some of whom will have the chance to ask their own questions in a town-hall setting debate.
This unique debate is critical for Romney in extending his momentum in a tight race, and for Obama in redeeming himself after a poor performance in the first debate. However, we would be remiss if we did not appreciate Crowley’s achievement in becoming the first female presidential debate moderator in two decades.
Crowley was selected by the male-dominated Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) to moderate an imperative event in this election. Yet, the selection did not occur without external influences. Inspired by a civics class, three high school students from Montclair, N.J. created an online petition that generated approximately 150,000 supporters. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also announced through twitter that it is time for a female to moderate the presidential debate.
It is also notable that Crowley was picked to moderate the town-hall setting, which entails less direct contact between the moderator and the candidates than the other debates. The town hall-style will allow the audience members to ask the questions instead of the moderator. Yet, Crowley will likely stand her ground in the debate and ensure that the candidates are answering the constituents’ questions specifically. The town hall setting may actually demand a moderator that can create an interactive presence despite the focused exchange between the audience and the candidates.
I do not believe sexism played a role in the CPD. The decision to allow Crowley to moderate the debate is a reflection of the progress woman have made in political journalism and commentary. Women have increasingly become more involved in high-profile journalism, and it is a testament to strong and talented female correspondents who have proved themselves on the air. It is up to Crowley to ensure that she does more than just hand the microphone to the audience members. If her performance receives praise similar to that of Martha Raddatz’s performance in the vice presidential debate, women will have undoubtedly secured a place for themselves as moderators in future debates, and hopefully without the support of an online petition and a politician's tweets.