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Meet One Of The Women Moderating The Next GOP Debate

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Photo: Courtesy Fox Business Network.
The first presidential debate of the election year approaches: on Thursday, Fox Business Network will host the sixth GOP debate of the 2016 election cycle.

The debate has narrowed the number of people on the main stage. Only seven candidates— Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich— will be debating in the top tier bracket. Rand Paul and Carly Fiorina have been invited to join Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum in the preliminary debate after falling in the polls.

In the run up to state primaries, it’ll soon become clear which candidates have staying power, and which ones are just barely holding on. “It’s an exciting moment! I think a lot of people are excited for this,” Sandra Smith, a reporter for the Fox Business Network and one of the moderators of Thursday night's preliminary debate, told Refinery29 by phone. “It could be potentially game-changing.”

It’s Smith's second time running a presidential debate in this election cycle, after the success of the previous Fox Business debate on November 10. Refinery29 spoke with her about the challenges of running a debate and what she’s looking for on Thursday.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How do you coax real answers out of the candidates without just letting them rest on their talking points?

“You have to listen to everything that everyone is saying. Obviously the candidates and what they’re saying, but a lot of it is listening to what the general interests are of the American voter.”

“The whole idea is to ask substantive questions, and ones that get a response from a candidate that you haven’t heard before…. There's an art to asking a question that doesn’t have a candidate launch into their talking points. I’m not out to get any candidates, but I am out to challenge them a bit.”

The Republican field is full enough at the moment that debates have consistently needed to be split into two parts. Is width of the field bringing up important issues and information, or are messages getting lost?

“It depends a lot on the candidates and how they perform in a given night, as do what topics get asked and what subjects get brought up or addressed. Two debates certainly allows [for more questions], and it’s just still necessary, at this point. It’s not up to us to decide who’s still a viable candidate. That’s up to the voters.”

Several Republican candidates have been called out for poor attitudes towards women. Do you feel any pressure to represent any particular image of women while acting as a moderator?

“That doesn’t apply to how I’ve prepared for this debate. If that comes through in a question or if that comes through in an answer by one of the candidates, well then a voter can decide if they have a different view of women than they would like. But no, that did not play a part.”

“There’s no question that’s going to be worded differently because I’m a woman, that I feel like I need to ask it this way because I’m a woman and he’s a man. It’s not going to play a part in the way that I talk to the presidential candidates. At this point in the election cycle, these candidates— some of them have a lot to lose, some of them have little to lose. Those that are on the lower tier and they’re trying to stay in the race, they don’t have that much to lose, some of them. So we’re prepared for them to really come out with some bold conversation and bold debate.”

Do you have any advice for professional women in a male dominated field like politics?

“Be yourself! Always stay positive, and don’t ever feel like somebody’s going to treat you differently, or look at you different or talk to you differently because of your gender. Assume you’re an equal, act like an equal, and always just do your best and be yourself.”

Sandra Smith is the co-host of FOX News Channel’s Outnumbered (weekdays 12PM/ET) and a reporter for the FOX Business Network. The sixth Republican debate airs on Fox Business Network at 6 p.m. ET on January 14.


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