It is somewhat strange, really, that one of the main questions surrounding Tuesday night's presidential debate is, "Will Candy Crowley ask a follow-up question?" Yet, as the hour of Barack Obama's face-off with Mitt Romney approaches, Crowley finds herself in a surreal spotlight.
The moderators of every debate draw intense attention. But Mark Halperin's report that both campaigns had objected to Crowley's seemingly normal vows to do the job she's been doing for decades and ask questions raised a particular kind of ruckus that is still going.
The story is being helped along by the dynamics of 24-hour cable news networks.
PBS' Jim Lehrer and ABC's Martha Raddatz largely went to ground in the days leading up to their debates. Crowley is on CNN, though. Apart from having much more time to fill up, cable news loves nothing more than a rolling political controversy. Crowley's shown up on air repeatedly over the past weeks, previewing the debate and promising that she won't bend to any rules the campaigns have set up.
"This is what campaigns do," she said on Tuesday. "They push and shove and pull, and moderators become a part of that evermore in society over the past election cycles. It's just a part of it."
Anchor Kyra Phillips joked, "Not to put pressure on you, Candy..."
"Yeah, no," Crowley replied. "No pressure here."
Part of the confusion comes from the bewilderingly mixed messages sent by the Commission on Presidential Debates. Halperin also released the secret Memorandum of Understanding between the two candidates, which explicitly states that the moderator of the second debate is not permitted to ask follow-ups.
Frank Fahrenkopf, the co-chair of the CPD, told CNN's Carol Costello on Tuesday that both his group and Crowley are "not a party to that document." He added that Crowley was allowed to "facilitate" discussion, but not pivot to new topics.
This raises an obvious question: If Crowley does not have to follow the rules set out by the parties, why is the moderator even mentioned in the MOU?
Explanations from Fahrenkopf were sparse. "We've met with her," he said of Crowley. "She understands her role."
The debate will also be the last chance for any of the candidates to square off about a whole host of domestic issues that haven't been touched in either the presidential or vice presidential forums. (The third debate will focus entirely on foreign policy.) Immigration, climate change and the environment, poverty, prisons, gun control and gay rights are just some of the things neither Obama nor Romney (nor Joe Biden or Paul Ryan) has discussed. Whether they are raised will be up to the audience members who come up with the questions and to Crowley, who selects them.