With less than two weeks to go until election day, all eyes are on Kristen Welker. The NBC News correspondent will be the final moderator in the presidential debates between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, hosting their match-up at Nashville's Belmont University on Thursday, October 22. Welker, 44, is only the second Black woman to moderate a presidential debate solo, following ABC News journalist Carole Simpson in 1992.
Welker is an NBC News White House correspondent and Weekend TODAY host, with selected debate topics including coronavirus, race, climate change, national security, US families, and leadership. Welker is also the first debate moderator after Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, as the second debate was cancelled following Trump's refusal to go virtual. Prior to taking the debate stage, Welker was a prominent figure on the 2016 campaign trail and earned the nickname "the Welk-nado," from Weekend TODAY co-host Peter Alexander. "She sweeps through the room, doesn't stop, doesn't pause. She's relentless," he told ELLE.com in 2016.
Ahead, how Welker's atmospheric presence will serve her during tonight's debate and why Trump is already criticizing her credentials.
She's a longtime NBC News White House correspondent and anchor.
Welker is a Philadelphia native who studied American history at Harvard College, graduating in 1998. Just before graduation, she interned at TODAY, then held reporting positions at NBC affiliates in Providence, Rhode Island and Redding, California. For five years, she worked at WCAU, the NBC affiliate in her hometown of Philadelphia.
Since 2010, she's been a member of the NBC News team and became a White House correspondent in 2011. Welker was a rising star as part of NBC News' 2016 campaign coverage and was promoted to Weekend TODAY co-anchor alongside Peter Alexander in January 2020. In April, she delivered this viral moment outside of the White House, reporting as lighting equipment fell around her.
— Jeevan Vittal (@JvittalTV) April 22, 2020
This isn't her first time moderating a presidential debate.
While Welker makes history as a solo moderator, she co-moderated a Democratic primary presidential debate last November alongside MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, NBC's Andrea Mitchell, and Washington Post's Ashley Parker. The ten participants included former Vice President Joe Biden; California Sen. Kamala Harris; New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker; South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders; billionaire Tom Steyer; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren; entrepreneur Andrew Yang; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.
Growing up biracial inspired her to become a journalist.
Welker has also spoken about how growing up with a Black mother and white father influenced her decision to become a journalist. "Growing up as a biracial child, the idea of helping people of different races and backgrounds better communicate inspired me to become a journalist," she told Glamour in June. Welker said she felt that same sense of civic obligation amid protests following George Floyd's death. "With protesters demanding change after George Floyd’s death, it is more important than ever that everyone has a voice and elected leaders from the White House to City Hall are held accountable for their words and actions, or lack thereof," she said.
Welker also paid tribute to her mother, Juliet, in 'The Best Advice My Mother Gave Me' feature on Maria Shriver's website. She referred to Juliet as "my biggest supporter, my best friend, and my greatest inspiration." According to Welker, her mother was a "trailblazer" who became the first African American president of the women's student association at Penn State. "From the moment I told my mother that I wanted to be a journalist, she has stood by my side every step of the way," Welker wrote, adding, "My mom texts me after every single live report to cheer me on. I would not be the person or journalist that I am today if it were not for my mom."
Trump is already attacking her on Twitter.
Trump has been critical of Welker, just as he was of previous moderators Wallace and NBC's Savannah Guthrie, who hosted his town hall. Donald Trump Jr. wrote, "Yikes! Here we go again" in response to a New York Post story detailing Welker's parents' history of supporting Democratic candidates. The president retweeted his son's comment and added, "She’s always been terrible & unfair, just like most of the Fake News reporters, but I’ll still play the game. The people know!"
According to Vanity Fair, Trump also referred to Welker as a "radical Democrat" who has been "screaming questions at me for a long time" during a rally in Arizona. In Wisconsin, he reportedly said, “She’s extraordinarily unfair, but that’s alright.” As reported by the outlet, Trump actually congratulated Welker on her promotion to coanchor of Weekend TODAY earlier this year.
There's been some speculation about her social media.
In the lead-up to Welker's moderating stint, there's been discourse about her social media presence. Currently, her Instagram is private and for a brief period her Twitter appeared to be deactivated.
— JERRY DUNLEAVY (@JerryDunleavy) October 10, 2020
Now Welker's Twitter is active and public once more. According to the Chicago Tribune, NBC said that the deactivation "was temporary and done for security, not to hide anything she may have tweeted in the past," the Tribune reports. The outlet notes that Trump supporters have seized upon records that reportedly show Welker's parents donated to Democratic campaigns in the past. Per the Tribune, Welker is a registered independent.
She met her husband on a blind date.
Welker is married to John Hughes, a Philadelphia marketing director. They were set up three years prior on a blind date and he proposed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Welker told The New York Times she knew Hughes was the one when he gifted her a handwritten crossword puzzle of presidential trivia. “That’s the moment he got me,” she recalled. “As a White House correspondent, it was so touching, and it marked him different than anyone else I ever dated.” They were married in their joint hometown of Philadelphia in March 2017. “He allowed me to be me,” Welker told the Times of their courtship. “And he’s incredibly calm, while I’m typically talking 100 miles a minute.”
These days, the couple is working from their home side-by-side. Welker told People that Hughes is her "producer from home" and has even mastered the teleprompter. “He's just so supportive, and just jumps right in,” she told the outlet. “We joke that he'll be joining the union soon, because he knows how to use all of the equipment.”
This week, she's winning a high-profile journalism award.
The day after Welker's debate performance, she'll be honored as 2020's Outstanding Broadcast Journalist at the Washington Women in Journalism Awards. Past award winners include CNN's Abby Phillip, NPR's Mary Louise Kelly, and CNN's Dana Bash.
Congratulations to @kwelkernbc who will be honored with the award for Outstanding Journalism in Broadcast Television at the annual Washington Women in Journalism Awards on Sept. 24. pic.twitter.com/IuxEfKcoj6
— NBC News PR (@NBCNewsPR) September 3, 2020
A Q+A on the organization's website reveals Welker's first byline came courtesy of the Harvard Crimson in 1994 and that studying abroad in Madrid was one of the best decisions she's made. Her most important story was about the increased maternal mortality rates among Black women and her advice for young journalists? “Be brave. Raise your hand for every assignment that comes your way. Be prepared to work harder than you have ever imagined, and seek out constructive criticism,” Welker says.
Watch Welker moderate the final debate tonight at 9pm ET.
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