Wondering how the handful of Americans were selected to grill Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in front of 70 million or so TV viewers at tonight's debate? ABC's Russell Goldman reports that the Gallup polling organization was tasked by the Commission on Presidential Debates with selecting undecided voters who live "near" Hofstra University to attend the debate:
Those average voters, about 80 of them depending on how many seats the Commission on Presidential Debates, which oversees the debate, decides it can fit in the hall, are a cross section of Nassau County's still undecided voters.
Each audience member was called and asked to participate in a voter survey, without knowing the call might end in an invitation to the debate.
Among the randomly selected voters are the "classically undecided," whose votes remain completely up in the air, said Newport, as well as those "who say 'I lean to one candidate or the other, but I'm still a holdout.'"
Does the location of the debate guarantee that the questions will skew in Obama's favor? Not necessarily. Although New York is far more liberal and Democratic than the nation as a whole, Long Island isn't as deep blue as the rest of New York. Indeed, Republican Pete King has represented New York's 3rd congressional district since 1993.
The questions that get asked will also have receive approval by CNN's Candy Crowley. According to an agreement between the campaigns and the Commission on Presidential Debates, audience members had to submit questions in writing for approval by the moderator (see page 8 of the agreement):
Prior to the start of the debate, audience members will be asked to submit questions in writing to the moderator. No third party, including the Commission and the campaigns, shall be permitted to see the questions. The moderator shall approve all questions to be posed by the audience members to the candidates. The moderator shall ensure that the audience members pose to the candidates a balance of questions on foreign policy and national security, on the one hand, and domestic and economic policy on the other. The moderator will further review the questions and eliminate any questions that the moderator deems inappropriate.
According to the debate rules, Crowley is not supposed to ask any follow-up questions, but she has said she will defy that agreement. Politico's Dylan Byers reports:
In an interview with CNN this afternoon, Candy Crowley reiterated that, like past town-hall debate moderators, she intends to do more than just hold the microphone at tonight's debate in Hempstead, N.Y. -- an intention that has caused concern for both campaigns.
"They will call on 'Alice,' and 'Alice' will stand up and ask a question. Both candidates will answer. Then there's time for a follow-up question, facilitating a discussion, whatever you want to call it," Crowley said. "So if Alice asks oranges, and someone answers apples, there's the time to go, 'But Alice asked oranges? What's the answer to that?" Or, 'Well, you say this, but what about that?'"