© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Stay up to date with the latest news and information about St. Louis Public Radio.

Behind the scenes: How Missouri's first televised McCaskill-Hawley debate came together

Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley and Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill
Durrie Bouscaren & Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

All eyes are on incumbent U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) and Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) as they contend for the United States Senate. The two will go head-to-head Oct. 18 in an hour-long debate organized by St. Louis Public Radio, Nine Network of Public Media and 5 On Your Side.

Meticulous Coordination

“It’s been months in the making,” said Alex Heuer, executive producer of St. Louis on the Air. Heuer, who spearheaded the debate planning on behalf of St. Louis Public Radio, said that organizing the debate was particularly complex because it involved meticulous coordination among the media partners from different types of media organizations — TV and radio, commercial and non-commercial — as well as between two political campaigns.

"Usually in these types of partnerships, people don't get along as well as they have," said Heuer. "Organizing this debate has truly been a team effort."

Debate planning accelerated after the Missouri primaries in August. Nine Network communicated with the campaigns to get them to agree to a debate and then to settle on a date before official invitations went out. Hawley and McCaskill have participated in just one debate this election season that wasn't televised — October 18 could be the last time they face off before voters go to the polls on Nov. 6.

Reporters and station organizers participate in a debate planning tour in the Nine Network studio.
Debate Planning Tour at the Nine Network

Competing Campaigns Agree to the Details

Both the Hawley and McCaskill campaigns had to agree on debate logistics including: whether the candidates stand behind a lectern, if the candidates may move around the stage, the general question-and-answer format and various other specifics that tend to cause conflict between rival campaigns.

Journalists from the three participating organizations developed debate topics and questions for the candidates. Debate moderator, PBS NewsHour'sJudy Woodruff, will ask the initial questions. The panelists, St. Louis Public Radio political reporter Jo Mannies and 5 On Your Side anchor Mike Bush, will continue questioning the candidates. Questions from the audience and social media will be part of the debate as well, facilitated by Ruth Ezell of Nine Network. They have decided to forgo candidate opening statements to avoid canned and rehearsed remarks from Hawley and McCaskill.

Selecting an Audience

The debate audience will be composed of 100 Missouri residents from across the state. To apply, residents filled out a form with questions regarding their location, political leanings, gender identity, and race. According to Heuer, applications from Missourians who wanted to be a part of the studio audience came in very quickly in high numbers. Getting people to apply was relatively easy. However, choosing appropriate audience members was a much more challenging task as the audience had to be representative of the people who live in Missouri. Gender, race, geographical location, and political affiliation were taken into consideration.

Applicants who did not get selected were informed and invited to attend the public watch party in the Public Media CommonsSt. Louis Public Radio political reporter Jason Rosenbaum and 5 On Your Side reporter Casey Nolen will get real-time opinions from the audience as they host a post-debate analysis show.

Inform Your Vote by following ongoing election coverage from the St. Louis Public Radio politics team.