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CNN’s Candy Crowley previews the next presidential debate

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HH: Right now, I’m pleased to talk with CNN’s Candy Crowley, who will be of course moderating the second presidential debate that is coming up in two weeks. Candy, you must have watched with a very unique perspective on Wednesday night. Tell us about that.

CC: I did, except for you’re going to be so disappointed. I almost wasn’t paying any attention to Jim Lehrer, because I was writing notes like oh, there’s a hole, oh, that would be a good question, sort of looking at things they were dropping, what the candidates were saying in terms of follow up. So I wasn’t, you know, that focused on Jim. I mean, the one thing that you know, sort of in retrospect, remember I was in the hall, too, so it comes across very differently in the hall than it does on television. But I think, you know, in the end, what you want is for these two guys to exchange views, meaning this candidate and this candidate. That’s certainly what Jim tried to do, and I think most people that are looking at the debate now say that the President didn’t come to engage with Mitt Romney. He came to say his peace, and I think that’s why you’re now looking at these numbers that suggests that most people think the President lost.

HH: Well, I thought Jim Lehrer did a fine job, and I thought he did a fine job, because the Presidential Debate Commission gave him a set of rules that he basically kept to and allowed the two candidates to exchange. And so I don’t get the criticism of him in some precincts, but I wonder if you are aware of the fact that the role of moderator maybe for, in a way unprecedented, has become politicized in the eyes of so many people watching.

CC: Do you know what’s funny is, and I realize that there were Republicans that criticized Jim as well, but I did see some of the Obama campaign’s complaining about the moderator and this and that. And is that any older than shooting the messenger?

HH: (laughing) No.

CC: Right? I mean, isn’t that kind of, that’s sort of…and you expect it. I’ve got to tell you, I’ll be you get a lot of it, I get a lot of it on Sunday shows. It’s just in, it’s just in the groundwater, and you know that if people see something they don’t like, if their candidate does something they don’t like, they don’t blame their candidate. They blame somebody else.

HH: Yeah, sure. If someone falls down, everyone looks for who tripped him.

CC: Yeah.

HH: And that’s the standard. Now, but is anyone trying to work you from either side? Team Romney, Team Obama trying to work Candy Crowley as she gets closer to the big day?

CC: No, no, not at all. I mean, I’ll tell you, I don’t lack for suggestions coming into my email, but if they’re from the Romney campaign or the Obama campaign, they’re carefully disguised. So I am getting, you know, on average, about 200 suggestions a day from people going okay, you’re doing the next debate, and I’d like to suggest that you ask this or that or the other thing. So I’m getting lots of incoming, but if it’s from either campaign, it’s disguised as John Q. Public.

HH: Now about the, I want to come to what you’re doing on State Of The Union this weekend, but one more debate related question. When it comes to picking the people for the town hall interlocutor job, who’s doing that? How’s that actually happening?

CC: Gallup. Gallup is identifying undecided voters.

HH: So it’s all going to be undecided voters without prescreening of their questions?

CC: Well, no. I’m going to…I will get, they’ll do some thinking about what they want their questions to be, submit several of them, and I will ultimately decide who gets called on.

HH: Okay.

CC: So I know what their questions are going to be.

HH: Okay, perfect. So you get to make sure that the flow, I’ve done that drill before where you want to make sure you don’t get eight questions about topic A…

CC: Right.

HH: I got it.

CC: Well, not only that, you don’t want to get eight questions…if you have people who are undecided, that’s great, and you’re sure they are. But you don’t want to get eight questions that are sort of skewed toward their doubts about Mitt Romney, and one that’s skewed toward doubts about Barack Obama. You want that to be even. So…

HH: Well, I won’t try and lobby you on air, except to say Fast & Furious, Fast & Furious, Fast & Furious. But anyway…

CC: (laughing)

HH: Candy, what are you covering Sunday?

CC: Well, it’s a VP debate. We’re going to look at, you know, what this is going to shape up as. I actually think this may be one of the more fascinating VP debates, although it’s going to be hard to beat Biden/Palin, or…

HH: Cheney/Liebermann?

CC: Yes, Cheney/Liebermann. I thought they were always pretty good. But certainly Biden/Palin was great, but I think this will be a good one. I think they are two smart fellows that know how the government works, so…

HH: Agreed. Now looking back, you’ve seen a lot of these debates. The one that we just went through, I’ve called it the biggest loss every suffered by a sitting president, and I think given the CNN and the CBS snap polls, there’s data to back that up. Are you surprised at how, what we’ll call the public perception being so lopsided against President Obama? And what do you attribute that perception to?

CC: Well, no, I think the perception of folks watching was that Mitt Romney really seemed eager to join and debate, and the President did not. I think our flash poll had it at 67% thinking that Mitt Romney won. And even though they’re flash polls and they certainly have their problems with flash polls, this is the highest, we don’t think it’s ever gone above 60% since debates began…

HH: Right.

CC: …when you say hey, who won this. So you know, it was a pretty clear winner even to Democrats, because you heard them afterwards not making much excuses. I attribute it to the fact that I do believe that if you go back and listen to what the Obama people were saying ahead of the debate, say well, what’s he doing. Well, what the President wants to do is come on and he wants to talk to the American people. He wants to talk to the middle class. The problem is that he’s supposed to be talking to Mitt Romney, and I think in the end, that that was their strategy. Their strategy was he’s going to be presidential and serious, and he wasn’t going to do these petty attacks or whatever they thought that Mitt Romney was going to do. He was going to talk directly to the American people. And in the end, it looked disengaged. It looks like he didn’t want to talk to Mitt Romney. So I think the strategy just was talk to the American people. I think the strategy next time will be answer Mitt Romney.

HH: And a last question, Candy. He’s got four years of achievements or non-achievements, depending on however one wants to judge it, but not much of that came up in the course of this, except that which was brought up by Romney. Do you expect the President to be talking more specifically about what he did or didn’t do in the last four years in round two?

CC: I do, and you heard the President do this quite forcefully out on the stump. I mean, look, they’ve said themselves, meaning the Obama campaign has said themselves we’re recalibrating a bit. So yes, I think that he will be forceful in what he considers to be his successes and the jobs he’s created, and et cetera, et cetera. And I think he will be ready to engage with Mitt Romney. I mean, talk to me afterwards, but that’s certainly the sense that I am getting from talking to the campaign at this point.

HH: I will look forward to that post-debate conversation. Good luck, Candy Crowley. Lots of people have great confidence in what you’re going to be doing. We look forward to seeing you there on the town hall night in a week hence.

CC: Thanks, Hugh.

End of interview.

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