Candy Crowley is up for debate.
This campaign season’s second presidential debate, that is. Tuesday (Oct. 16), the veteran CNN political correspondent and host of the weekly Sunday program “State of the Union” will moderate the middle of three pre-Election Day face-offs between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.
To be carried by most broadcast outlets and cable news networks, the event will have a town-hall format also letting audience members question the candidates. Crowley is extremely aware of the attention paid lately to her immediate debate-moderating predecessors — PBS’ Jim Lehrer and ABC’s Martha Raddatz — and she maintains she’s ready for anything.
“People ask me, ‘Do you think you’ll correct [the candidates] if they’re wrong? Do you think you’ll be stern? Do you think you’ll be this-or-that?,’ and these are organic things to me,” Crowley tells Zap2it. “You can’t go in thinking, ‘OK. Fifty percent of the time, I’m going to do this, but then I’m going to lay back if that happens.’ You don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s just a rhythm that you have to be able to go with … and also to set, obviously.
“I’m hoping that Sundays have really helped me with that,” Crowley notes of her “State of the Union” conversations with numerous politicians, “being able to say, ‘OK, but that’s really not the question that was asked here.'”
However other debate moderators have fared and been received, Crowley reasons, “I think that I can’t think about it. People will watch and will criticize, but you can’t please everybody, and you can’t freak yourself out to the extent that it becomes an overriding feature of your mindset when you’re ‘in it.’
“It has to be about getting the most information out of [the candidates] that I possibly can, and adding to the body of knowledge about them, and not worrying about what other people think about me. Yes, that’s part of it … and I can’t tell you that it doesn’t make me go, ‘Oy-yoy-yoy,’ but you just can’t think about it.
“And,” adds Crowley, “don’t cry for any of us, Argentina. This is a great thing to be able to do, and I think I can handle whatever happens. There’s so much that I think has to be in your brain going into this, I can’t have a part of it worried about what other people want me to be. It has to be what I think is best at the time — and if it isn’t, well, then it isn’t.”
Lest that make Crowley seem nonchalant about being enlisted by the Commission on Presidential Debates, she stresses she’s anything but. The organization has been approached by both presidential campaigns in recent days, with concerns about Crowley possibly taking a more active role in following up audience questions than they had anticipated.
“I do think it’s amazing,” she says of the job, “and it’s exciting, and it’s the biggest platform I’ve ever been asked to be on. I just don’t want it to control what happens. In the end, it’s the same job, whether you’re asked to do it for four people or 50 million.”
“I know it’s a ‘hot’ political season,” Crowley acknowledges, “but I look back at Dole vs. Clinton, or the second Ronald Reagan race. At the time, the stakes didn’t seem any less high to me. What’s changed is that I think we’re all aware of it in a way we weren’t before.”
Crowley recalls covering President George H.W. Bush‘s re-election bid: “[Reporters] would walk in and people would ‘boo’ us, because they thought we were the problem, the reason President Bush was having such a close race with — and would end up losing to — Bill Clinton. I’ve seen that intensity in almost every election I’ve covered, but I guess now, everybody sees it because it’s out there on the Internet with so many Web sites and blogs. It’s like a campaign trail writ large.”
NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” has been making major hay of the presidential debates, and while it wouldn’t surprise Crowley to factor into a sketch this weekend, she’s aiming to negate that.
“You know, that really makes me nauseous!,” she says with a hearty laugh about the notion. “I’m hoping to do such a great journalistic job, there just will be nothing to make fun of. Unfortunately, though, I’m afraid there’s always something to be made fun of.”