In a rare show of unity, both the Obama and Romney campaigns have complained to the Commission on Presidential Debates about CNN's Candy Crowley, who will moderate Tuesday's town hall forum.
The reason, according to Time's Mark Halperin, is that Crowley has publicly said that she intends to play an active role in the debate, rather than just let the audience at the town hall ask questions.
Time's Halperin got his hands on the secret debate contract -- or "Memorandum of Understanding" -- hammered out by the two campaigns for every debate. Many groups have long demanded for these contracts to be made public as a matter of routine, but the Commission and the campaigns have resisted.
According to Halperin, the MOU, which he said Crowley is "not party to," calls for the moderator to play a relatively limited role in the town-hall debate:
"In managing the two-minute comment periods, the moderator will not rephrase the question or open a new topic ... The moderator will not ask follow-up questions or comment on either the questions asked by the audience or the answers of the candidates during the debate or otherwise intervene in the debate except to acknowledge the questioners from the audience or enforce the time limits, and invite candidate comments during the two-minute response period."
This does not dovetail in the least with Crowley's public statements about her intentions. She discussed what she feels her role will be in detail with The Huffington Post last week:
I want to hear less from the moderator than I do from the candidate. I think that, in some ways, people go into it expecting that you're going to mix it up with the candidates. And I'm not saying that at some point that won't happen or that that doesn't happen. I'm just saying that the idea is to get the candidates to mix it up with each other.
Huffington Post: So you see your ultimate role as being there to facilitate their conversation with each other?
Crowley: I think that's one of the roles. The expectations are enormous from people. My inbox is filled with questions from people. You're going to disappoint people, so I think the idea is to try to add to the body of knowledge that is out there in whatever way you can. I think it's always best when these guys engage with each other, but that doesn't mean I won't engage with them if that gets us closer to what we need.
Crowley also went on CNN to talk about the debate, where she said, "Once the table is kind of set by the town-hall questioner, there is then time for me to say, 'Hey, wait a second, what about X, Y, Z?'"
After seeing some of those comments, Halperin wrote, both the Obama and Romney campaigns cried foul, complaining to the CPD. However, Crowley is not specifically ordered to follow the rules set out by the MOU. But it would appear that debate control is something both campaigns can find common ground about. It remains to be seen whether their extremely public attempt to corral Crowley will work or not.
The debate moderators have become a huge story in the final weeks of the campaign. Both Jim Lehrer and Martha Raddatz drew intense scrutiny for the tone and tenor of their questioning. Raddatz was also the subject of conservative complaints in the days running up to last week's vice presidential debate.
UPDATE: Halperin published the entire Memorandum between the campaigns on Monday afternoon: