Chris Wallace, Kristen Welker Among Moderator Choices for Presidential Debates

Chris Wallace, Kristen Welker Among Moderators
Noah Willman for Variety

Fox News’ Chris Wallace, NBC News’ Kirsten Welker, and C-SPAN’s Steve Scully will each moderate one of three Presidential Debates leading up to the 2020 election, taking center stage in seminal events in the campaign to win the White House later this year.

The non-profit Commission on Presidential Debates said Wednesday that the three debates would each be 90 minutes long, as would a separate vice-presidential debate moderated by Susan Page of USA Today. The events will start at 9 p.m eastern.

The moderator choices are notable because they do not include what has typically been a staple for events such as these – one of the main evening-news anchors from one of the broadcast networks, or a weekday anchor from a cable-news outlet. NBC News’ Lester Holt, ABC News’ Martha Raddatz and CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Wallace moderated the 2016 presidential debates, while CBS News’ Elaine Quijano moderated that year’s vice-presidential event.

None of the moderators selected this year were included on a list submitted in August by Rudy Giuliani, a personal attorney for President Donald Trump, who requested the Commission add a fourth debate with Democratic candidate Joe Biden to the schedule, and submitted a list of journalists who could serve as moderator. At the time, the nonpartisan body it intended to ” adhere to our longstanding procedure of selecting the debate moderators,” and  “will do so with great care, as always, to ensure that the selected moderators are qualified and fair.”

The first presidential debate will take place September 29 at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, OH. The second debate will take place Thursday, October 15, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in  Miami, FL. The third debate will take place Thursday, October 22, at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. The vice-presidential debate will take place  Wednesday, October 7,  at The University of Utah in Salt Lake City, UT. While primary debates are often assigned to a single TV network, these election debate are typically broadcast across most major U.S. TV outlets.

“We are grateful to these experienced journalists, who will help ensure that the general election presidential debates continue to serve their unique educational purpose of helping the public learn about the candidates,” said Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr., Dorothy S. Ridings and Kenneth Wollack, the co-chairs of the Commission on Presidential Debates, in a prepared statement.  “Each individual brings great professionalism to moderating and understands that the purpose of the 2020 debate formats is to facilitate in-depth discussion of major topics.”

The first and third debates will be held in a traditional format. They will consist of six segments of approximately 15 minutes each on major topics to be selected by the moderator and announced at least one week before the debate. Candidates will have two minutes to respond to each question and then a chance to respond to each other. The second debate will be a “town hall meeting,” with questions asked “by citizens from the South Florida area,” according to the Commission. Candidates will have two minutes to respond to each question. Participants will be uncommitted voters selected under the supervision of Dr. Frank Newport, Senior Scientist with the Gallup polling organization.

The Commission has since 2012 worked to create debate formats that include longer segments, the hope being that such a set-up allows candidates to place more focus on critical issues.