If you've ever tuned into a television debate and wondered who the person asking the candidates questions was and what their role is this is the place to get all the answers you need. That person providing the candidates standing behind the podiums questions is called a moderator and they are a neutral party placed there to maintain the debate's focus.
Just think how unruly a debate could get in today's political climate if candidates were provided an open forum with nobody in place to tell him or her to stop if they're rambling or to tell them to give the other candidate a chance for rebuttal if they don't allow the other party a chance to respond. That would cause a whole lot of chaos.
Debate moderators are expected to have organizational and time management skills while also being able to effectively communicate with the debate candidates. No matter what the candidates are discussing, be it welfare control healthcare costs, debates over the use of activated carbons (see here) etc., moderators that can't keep up with the candidates have no place being invited to the debate.
Some candidates feel that they can do whatever they want during the course of a debate and if the moderator gets bullied into taking a backseat to the candidates then their job would be a failure. That's why many debate moderators tend to be journalists who know a thing or two about asking tough questions and not backing down when they need to be heard, not unaware of the issues before them.
Every debate is of course different but they should all follow the same structure and for the moderator that means having certain tasks that must be completed during the course of the debate such as introducing the candidates and their parties by name, putting an end to any petty arguments that are far off the topic of debate, redirecting the discussion if a debater goes off on a rant or tangent, and to watch the clock so that neither debater goes over his or her allotted time.
The role of a debater is a tough and thankless one, especially in today's social media driven world where every screw up or softball question is analyzed, and you should keep that in mind the next time you watch a debate on TV and feel the moderator is doing a poor job. You might not do any better if you were asked to switch spots with them and they were to take over your gig for a day while you asked prepped and seasoned politicians hard-hitting questions.