For Fox Business moderators, debate pressure is on after CNBC free-for-all
Trish Regan has never moderated a presidential debate. And the one she gets to debut in Tuesday won't be aired in prime time, with top Republican contenders like Donald Trump and Ben Carson.
Instead, she has a perhaps more difficult job: to make interesting a 7 p.m. debate among unpopular candidates on a start-up network that's trying to avoid the mistakes by the last network that promised to ask questions about the economy.
Regan will be one of three people asking questions of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum as part of Tuesday night's "undercard" debate on Fox Business Network.
She and her colleagues have vowed to succeed where CNBC failed two weeks ago in a debate that turned into a free-for-all with candidates ganging up against the media (that nevertheless delivered high ratings for CNBC).
"My job is to ask the questions that voters want answered," Regan said in an interview with the Miami Herald on Friday, as she made final preparations to travel to the Milwaukee debate site Sunday. "I think voters want clarification on exactly what steps these candidates would take to generate economic growth."
So how does a TV anchor prepare for the spotlight of moderating a debate?
"One stays up very late at night and works every weekend," Regan said. "I have just been reading and reading and reading and familiarizing myself with the intricacies of all of these candidates' different plans for the last several weeks."
Regan said the research was, for someone who works in business news, fun: "I really -- believe it or not -- enjoy reading tax plans."
Fox Business, a network many viewers might not have in their cable lineups, will also live stream the debates. It's the first time the network hosts a presidential debate -- much less two of them -- and it's doing so with the Wall Street Journal.
The network didn't announce until last Thursday which candidates would make which debate stage, based on recent polling. The numbers caused a shuffle: Huckabee and Christie were relegated to the undercard, which will no longer include former New York Gov. George Pataki and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Still, Regan said, "the economy is good TV."
"I think everybody cares about their pocketbook," she sad. "Everybody cares about a job that can provide for their families."
To focus on the issues -- which candidates faulted CNBC for not doing, though that might have made for better TV -- Fox Business will allow candidates more time to respond to questions: 90 seconds for their answers and 60 seconds for rebuttals.
And a bell will chime when time is up -- much to Regan's relief.
"It's not me playing a third-grade teacher and saying, 'OK, you have to wrap up now,'" she said.