One of Saturday's Democratic presidential debate moderators, Martha Raddatz, is no stranger to big-time debates. She has gone up against two of the strongest political personalities and come out on top. In the 2012 race, she put Vice President Joe Biden and Mitt Romney's running mate Paul Ryan through the wringer during the vice presidential debate. Exploring her performance four years ago, you can only expect her to own it on ABC again this weekend.
She will join World News Tonight anchor David Muir in New Hampshire for the third debate, which will be between Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley, and Bernie Sanders. She'll oversee their three-person tug-of-war for the nation's eyeballs and Sunday morning newspaper headlines. George Stephanopoulos, chief political correspondent for the network and the usual pick for such events, was passed over — likely due to the revelation this past May that he donated $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation.
So what can we expect? Going back to 2012, reviews of her performance were extremely positive. The Washington Post’s Dan Zak summed up the Raddatz scene in his post-debate coverage:
A pro debated a novice Thursday night on national television, and both men were schooled by the moderator across the table.
Don't believe it? Just check out the full debate:
So how did she do it, exactly? Through kickass, on-point questions, specific follow-ups, and a continuous push for more detailed answers. From things obviously needing clarification — "What does that mean, 'a bunch of stuff?'" Raddatz asked Biden at one point — to questions on the budget, she always pressed for further explanations.
"I would like to begin with Libya," Raddatz said to start off the debate, referring to the then-recent attacks against America's consulate in Benghazi. She honed in on the controversy, which at the time threatened a second Obama term, much as it currently weighs against Clinton. "Wasn't this a massive intelligence failure?" she asked Biden. No beating around the bush.
She lobbed hardballs at Ryan, too. Asking about balancing fiscal responsibility with increased military spending, she asked, "I want to know how you do the math and have this increase in defense spending?" When his answer on tax cuts wasn't good enough, she said, "You guarantee this math will add up?"
Her greatest asset was her ability to be both conversational and confrontational. Given the small democratic field, this could fly again on Saturday. When asking the running mates about their tax plans, she interjected, "Something tells me I won't get a very simple answer." When managing crosstalk, she silenced Biden by saying, "You'll get time." She deftly controlled the conversation, and forced the candidates to keep up with her pace.
Raddatz's techniques may change this time around, given that she'll be sharing the stage. But I think we can expect her to try to get the candidates to work through their proposals in a detailed manner. They won't get away with spouting far-reaching goals and something-for-everyone campaign promises. Raddatz will demand detailed how-tos.
After all, as she said last time around, "Do you actually have the specifics, or are you still working on it, and that's why you won't tell voters?" If I were Clinton, O'Malley, or Sanders, I would come prepared — maybe even with a calculator.