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CNN’s Crowley to be a journalist during debate

CNN's political correspondent Candy Crowley says she will ask Obama and Romney follow-up questions as she sees fit. (Linda Davidson/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Candy Crowley, the moderator for Tuesday’s second presidential debate, isn’t backing down.

The CNN reporter and host said Monday that she intends to take an active part in the town-hall-style debate, despite efforts by the campaigns of President Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney to curtail her role.

The campaigns told the sponsoring Commission on Presidential Debates they were concerned that Crowley would ask the candidates follow-up questions after a pre-selected group of voters posed theirs. Campaign reps said that was outside the debate rules and voiced their concerns Monday to debate commission co-Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf.

Crowley left little doubt Monday that she plans to function as a journalist during the debate at Hofstra University in New York. On CNN’s “The Situation Room,” she told colleague Wolf Blitzer: “I’m trying to just know what the facts are, what the [candidates’] positions are, so that when something comes up that maybe could use a little further explanation, it might be as simple as: ‘But the question, sir, was oranges and you said apples. Could you answer oranges?’ Or it might be as simple as: ‘But, gee, how does that fit with the following thing?’ ”

In July, Crowley and the debates commission agreed with the campaigns that the moderator would “facilitate discussion,” Fahrenkopf said Monday. That meant she could ask a follow-up question on the topic under discussion, but not raise a new subject, he said.

“The commission and the moderator are not parties to” any agreement the campaigns may have, said Fahrenkopf, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, adding: “She agreed to abide by the rules of the commission, not the campaigns.”

Fahrenkopf said “facilitating discussion” is “a very broad thing. As long as she stays within her mandate, she’s not breaking any rules. She’s not supposed to be someone who’s arguing with the candidates. She’s not supposed to be an advocate in any way or inject herself into the debate. Beyond that, she’s not bound by whatever the campaigns agreed to.”

Crowley is the first woman in 20 years to moderate a presidential debate; Carole Simpson, then of ABC News, moderated a similar town-hall-style debate in 1992. Simpson didn’t initiate questions but did ask follow-up questions. Former network anchors Tom Brokaw and Charlie Gibson have also moderated town-hall debates.

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