Did Raddatz ask abortion question to focus media on Obama ‘war on women’ playbook?

Heading into the closing stages of Thursday night’s vice presidential debate in Danville, Ky., moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC News steered the conversation away from foreign policy and the economy and toward abortion, a development that pleased both President Obama’s re-election campaign and some liberal media commentators.

Raddatz, who has been under fire in recent days for her decades-old association with President Barack Obama, instructed Vice President Joe Biden and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan to discuss their Catholic faith as it regards the emotional and intensely personal issue. (RELATED EDITORIAL: ABC fails ethics test)

“We have two Catholic candidates, first time, on a stage such as this,” Raddatz said. “And I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion. Please talk about how you came to that decision. Talk about how your religion played a part in that. And, please — this is such an emotional issue for so many people in this country — please talk personally about this, if you could.”

Both Biden and Ryan answered the question, with Biden temporarily discontinuing the erratic gesturing for which he would later be criticized. (RELATED: Krauthammer on Biden’s ‘disrespectful,’ ‘hugely condescending’ demeanor)

Raddatz seemed determined to keep the conversation focused, steering the conversation back to abortion when Ryan raised the issue of Catholics fighting the Obama administration over Obamacare’s contraception mandate.

“I want to go back to the abortion question here,” Raddatz insisted. “If the Romney-Ryan ticket is elected, should those who believe that abortion should remain legal be worried?”

MSNBC reacts

This would be the left-leaning MSNBC’s favorite debate moment. After last week’s first presidential debate that left the pro-Obama cable news channel with little to celebrate, “Hardball” host and MSNBC post-debate panelist Chris Matthews explained why the abortion moment was one of the evening’s highlights. (RELATED VIDEO: Post-debate, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews lapses into panic mode)

“Abortion — I thought that Ryan did a heartfelt thing but what he said was I’m for outlawing abortion in a country of this diversity,” Matthews said. “He said that. A lot of people who are not of the Roman Catholic faith, the conservative Roman Catholic faith, [who] have a particular right-wing view about all kind of social issues, will say, ‘Wait a minute here, are you telling me you’re going to take away my right to make this decision myself? Take it away from my daughter because you have a point of view?’”

“This is America,” Matthews continued. “This isn’t old Spain. You don’t tell people what you can’t do because of your church views. You don’t do that. I thought Joe handled it exactly the way, well, a lot of people would have handled it. I think that’s going to hit home with people tonight, that abortion answer. And I tell you, the big three — taxes, Medicare and abortion — won for Biden tonight. I weight them heavily more than I do Syria and some of these other issues, and Benghazi. I think that’s why he won tonight.”

Matthews and his MSNBC colleagues apparently thought so much of Ryan and Biden’s seven-minute exchange on abortion that they discussed it at least five more times during 90 minutes of coverage wrapping up a 90-minute debate.

Figuring most prominently in that coverage was an interview Lawrence O’Donnell, host of MSNBC’s “The Last Word,” conducted with Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, who happened to be working  on behalf of the Obama campaign in the post-debate spin room.

The early signs

In a conference call Wednesday morning, Richards and Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter tipped their hand, indicating that abortion would figure prominently in the last four weeks of he election season.