Susan Page opens up about struggles with moderating vice presidential debate between Pence and Harris


Susan Page said she did not always have success with her “narrow questions” and maintaining control while moderating the first and only vice presidential debate of the 2020 election cycle.

The Washington bureau chief for USA Today was the only moderator in the Wednesday faceoff between Vice President Mike Pence and California Sen. Kamala Harris. She struggled at times to keep the candidates constrained to their time limits and at one point interrupted the debate to point out that their campaigns had agreed to the rules.

“I think the goal of the moderator is to try, in my view, ask a narrow question in the hope of getting an answer. That was often less successful than I’d hoped. And let the candidates take it over and debate among themselves. It is a debate among them that I was trying to facilitate,” Page told CNN.

Moderator USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page prepares for the vice presidential debate between Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Vice President Mike Pence at the University of Utah Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Salt Lake City.

(Justin Sullivan/AP)

“I thought if I asked a question about abortion, the response would be something about abortion, but that was not the case,” she added.

The journalist also said that she was able to learn a bit from watching Chris Wallace of Fox News moderate the first presidential debate between President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Wallace was widely panned for failing to keep the two candidates from interrupting both each other and Wallace himself. Wallace said after the matchup that he “never dreamt that it would go off the tracks the way it did.”

Page said Thursday that she didn’t try excessively to push candidates to provide an exact answer or challenge them with follow-up questions because the format was a debate and not an interview.

“In this case, I was really there just to help voters get some illumination about those candidates. And when they answered the questions I asked, I thought that was illuminating. And when they refused to answer the questions I asked, I thought that was also illuminating,” the journalist said.

“It’s not about me. It wasn’t even really about the campaigns. It was: What do voters need to see or hear to help them make their big decision in this coming week?” Page added.

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