Spin Cycle

10.12.12

The Real Debate Winner? Martha Raddatz

ABC correspondent was firmly in charge at the contentious VP faceoff

Martha Raddatz took control at the outset and never let go.

From her opening question to Joe Biden—Was there a “massive intelligence failure” in Libya?—she asked smart, informed questions, followed up aggressively and kept things moving in the vice-presidential debate.

When Raddatz told Biden and Paul Ryan “let’s move on,” they did.

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Win McNamee / Getty Images

Raddatz says her approach was to “try to react to what they’re saying.” On Good Morning America Friday morning, the ABC correspondent said, “Sure, I had a lot of follow-ups written, I had a lot of questions written. But when you’re there, you’re in the moment, you really have to go with what’s happening. So when they were talking to each other, when they were going after each other, you do, you want to step back from that. Yet when I hear things, I think, I gotta jump in there, I gotta jump in.”

That she did.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Raddatz’s moderation in Kentucky on Thursday night was the way she used her knowledge as a veteran foreign affairs correspondent and onetime White House reporter to pin down the candidates. When Biden dismissed Ryan’s indictment of the Obama foreign policy as “a bunch of malarkey,” Raddatz pressed  him to “be specific”—an admonition she repeated several times. And she could be a stern schoolmarm: “I want to move on here to Medicare and entitlements. I think we’ve gone over this quite enough.” You could imagine her ready to rap knuckles with a ruler.

Unlike Jim Lehrer’s minimalist approach in the first presidential debate, where he threw out topics and let the candidates go at it, the Raddatz style was to ask sharply pointed questions: “What’s worse…another war in the Middle East, or a nuclear-armed Iran?” Yet she never made the debate about her or choked off disagreements between Biden and Ryan.

Raddatz, who has flown on combat missions with U.S. troops, drew on her experience in posing this query about Afghanistan:

“We just passed the sad milestone of losing 2,000 U.S. troops there in this war. More than 50 of them were killed this year by the very Afghan forces we are trying to help.

“Now, we’ve reached the recruiting goal for Afghan forces, we’ve degraded Al Qaida. So tell me, why not leave now? What more can we really accomplish? Is it worth more American lives?”

Ryan paid tribute in his response, saying: “You’ve been there more than the two of us combined.”

And she came back with this for Biden: “I have talked to a lot of troops. I’ve talked to senior officers who were concerned that the surge troops were pulled during the fighting season, and some of them saw that as a political move.”

That’s what you get when a correspondent, rather than an anchor, runs a debate.

Raddatz also produced the debate’s most poignant moment—and sharpest disagreement--when she asked both Catholic candidates how their faith influences their lives and their views on abortion.

There was a lot of chatter about a breakthrough for women when Raddatz and Candy Crowley were picked as moderators. But on Thursday night, what mattered wasn’t Raddatz’s gender but her determination.