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Debate night: The running mates

Bill Ritter's daily take on the news.
October 11, 2012 1:33:02 PM PDT
They are sometimes memorable, but polls show that rarely do Vice Presidential debates have much impact on a Presidential election.

So that's something to keep back-of-mind tonight as you watch Joe Biden and Paul Ryan go podium-to-podium from Kentucky in their first and only debate.

I'm thinking about the debate today in a personal way, because I got my start in TV news because of political debates. And so I owe much to the woman who recruited me to moderate those debates way back when. A woman who died last week.

Lemme explain.

Gloria Penner was a broadcasting giant in San Diego, although she never appeared on any of the commercial stations. She was the chief on-air anchor and reporter for KPBS, the public broadcasting station, and she turned it into a powerhouse job.

Each week, Gloria had a roundtable discussion with newspaper reporters of the big stories that week. She invited me to be on the panel once, and I guess she liked how I did, because she regularly invited me back. And then she invited me to moderate the debates for state-held office in California.

Gloria had to recuse herself from those forums because KPBS received state funding, and she felt it would be a conflict of interest for her to moderate debates with folks who controlled her employer's funding.

I guess I did all right on those debates as well, because someone saw me and said something to somebody because the next thing I know a TV station is offering me a job. I leave the L.A. Times, and start down a different path. That was 25 years ago.

It was always fun running into Gloria, because she knew that if I hadn't subbed for her during those debates, I might well have remained an ink-stained wretch. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.

I think of Gloria every time I moderate a debate - and I've done many since those days in California. It's a difficult challenge, trying to the debate running smoothly, trying to keep the candidates on point, giving equal and fair time to those making the case to the public about why they should be elected to office, and trying to keep the issues relevant and interesting. I never told Gloria this - and, dang, now how I wish I had - but I learned so much from working with her and watching her ply her skills. She asked questions that were important, and always kept the viewers' interests on the front-burner.

Gloria was 81 when she died after a year-long battle with cancer. She was respected and loved by her viewers and her staff -- and by this reporter, 2,500 miles away.

So Gloria's memory for me is prelude to tonight's Vice Presidential debate, moderated by our ABC News colleague Martha Raddatz. And you can watch the debate tonight at 9 on WABC TV, and our political reporter Dave Evans will have the highlights, at 11.

One note about the debate tonight - or the post-debate. The Obama team is sending 11 surrogates to do their things in the "spin room." The Romney team will have 32. As Scott Clark used to say, oh - spin, spin, spin.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Meteorologist Lee Goldberg's windy AccuWeather forecast, and Rob Powers with the night's sports - including highlights from the Yankees' playoff game against the Orioles. If the Yanks win tonight, they head to the American League Pennant series.

In any event, we're thinking of Yankees Manager Joe Girardi, who will be on the field, with a heavy heart. His father, Jerry, died of Alzheimer's in Chicago last weekend, although it was just announced today. Girardi often talked about his dad's battle with the disease, and tonight so many people - including those of us whose own father's died with Alzheimer's - are thinking of Joe.

I hope you can join Sade Baderinwa and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER

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