It was supposed to be about business and economic issues – at least that’s the way CNBC billed it.
“[W]ell, we’re coming to you from the Ford Performing Arts Center,” co-moderator Maria Bartiromo said during the October 9 CNBC “Closing Bell.” “And there’s a lot of buzz and excitement around. We're just about an hour away from the debate and of course, this is the first national presidential debate focused only on economic issues. We'll be talking taxes, trade, housing, broad economy, foreign relations, protectionism.”
But it didn’t end up that way. While there were four questioners, co-moderator Chris Matthews was the most obvious in asking questions that had little to do with the economy. Out of his 49 questions, 28 were largely non-economic.
“Senator McCain, this is close to your heart – how would you catch bin Laden?” Matthews asked in one of the more memorable non-economic moments.
His questions ranged from the bin Laden to concerns about whether the candidates would support the GOP presidential nominee if they were not selected.
The other three journalists combined – Bartiromo, John Harwood and Jerry Seib – asked an almost identical number of questions, but only four of those questions weren’t about economic or business issues.
Matthews also strayed into more cultural issues – “[H]ow would you police the Internet, culturally? You know, the whole question is about the stuff going on – predators, that sort of thing. How we do it?” he asked Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Even throughout the debate, the words “The Republicans, The Economy & You,” were flashed across the screen, but there Matthews questioning strayed into less-economic based question and into foreign policy questions like the Iraq War – talking points often used by the Democratic candidates.