January 22nd, 2008
04:25 PM ET
10 years ago

Blitzer: I disagree with debate critics

A shrinking field gave candidates more time to attack.

A shrinking field gave candidates more time to attack.

MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina (CNN) - The Democratic presidential debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina has now come and gone. I must say I was pretty surprised: I knew there would be some fireworks, but I didn’t think it would become as rancorous as it did.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama came out swinging, and it was intense. They clearly had their zingers ready to go, and they let loose. It didn’t really matter what our questions were - whether on jobs, the economy, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, or health care - they were intent on hammering their rivals for the Democratic nomination.

This was the fourth presidential debate I have moderated during this election season. I hosted a Republican and Democratic debate back in June in New Hampshire, and a Democratic debate in November in Las Vegas. All three were much more subdued.

The shrinking field may be partly responsible for the new combative tone. When there are eight candidates fighting for time, it's tough for the candidates to go after each other. It's a lot easier when there are only three of them left standing.

Another factor: as the contest gets into the final rounds, the stakes become ever higher.

I made a deliberate decision last night to try to speak as little as possible. This was a debate, and I wanted the candidates to debate the issues, and let them go back and forth - much easier to do now that there are just three candidates left, as opposed to nearly three times as many.

During those early debates, some criticized me for interfering too much - either by interrupting the candidates and forcing them to wrap up their thoughts, or by moving on to the next question too quickly. “Why didn’t you just let them debate?” some of my critics asked. Following this most recent debate, some of my critics complained that I didn’t adequately control the two-hour session.

I certainly understand both criticisms. But I don’t agree with them.

As riveting as the back-and-forth might be, it wasn't the point of the event: I hope the people watching Monday night came away from this debate in South Carolina with a better understanding where the candidates stand on key issues.

–CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer

Filed under: Wolf Blitzer
soundoff (492 Responses)
  1. Jack ny, ny

    I think it is important to state who started it. In this case it was Obama. If hillary had let it go then it would have been considered as weakness.

    January 22, 2008 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  2. James Brown ( Independent )

    Wolf ,

    You did a great job in the Debate last night. It was good to see some action.

    January 22, 2008 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  3. Karen

    I liked the debate. It was fiery, not angry. You several times repeated questions when they wandered off and you can't be held responsible for a certain guy who likes to talk over people.

    January 22, 2008 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  4. adams

    I think that Obam's flerting tactics with the Republicans was silly in Nevada.

    Regan was a neo con. Obama is getting desperate.

    January 22, 2008 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  5. Cat, Costa Mesa, CA

    "As riveting as the back-and-forth might be, it wasn't the point of the event: I hope the people watching Monday night came away from this debate in South Carolina with a better understanding where the candidates stand on key issues."

    Unfortunetly I didn't do that. Instead, I became more confused on their positions, and just grew tired of their bickering. Instead of a debate on policies, it felt more like a session of who-can-throw-the-better-retort. It almost seemed imature

    January 22, 2008 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  6. roger, conway sc

    I feel that Wolf & the co-anchors done a good job the only thing that bothers me is that they knew that certain questions that were ask of Obama & Clinton would create a FIGHT so why not take responsibility. Instead CNN spins it like they had nothing to do with it or had no idea it would happen & critique the debate with a negative tone toward Clinton..I like a firey debate so I thought it went fine, I think giving the candidates time to respond to accusations is a good thing. I think Edwards was the most impressive, I know now I will not vote for Obama in our primary on Saturday if he can not handle a debate and take on a fight that he started with Clinton we do not need him in the white house. I also found that his message has no substance just a bunch of words...I can not blieve 50%+ of the black voters in SC are going to support him.

    January 22, 2008 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  7. aware

    I have one complaint. You let Obama away with too many "Wait a minute. This is important." moments. This unecessarily ate up the clock and particularly took time from Edwards.

    Otherwise, this was a very revealing debate. The Obama strategy failed miserably. Obama continued his ploy of taking things out of context to make his case. Most people look things up for themselves online or have someone do it for them. Obama also betrayed a very controlling and arrogant attitude. No unity candidate in Obama.

    I think we learned that Obama is not ready for 08

    Thanks CNN!

    January 22, 2008 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  8. Sensible Cape Coral Fl

    Let's get out of the school yard and into some serious discussion on how to save our beloved country . We have had enough of the Republicans, the Party of Fiscal Discipline. YEAH! RIGHT!

    January 22, 2008 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  9. AL in Mesa Az

    I am Hispanic and I support Hillary. In the debate last night she was very presidental. If Sen Obama wants to succeed where past black candidates have fail, his campaign must be a biracial one.

    South Carolina offers a large black electorate, by February 5 white women and latino's will out weigh the strength of black voters.

    January 22, 2008 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  10. Blonde

    I am sick of all the drama. But good job, Wolf!

    January 22, 2008 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  11. Matt

    To Vince in LA (first post)....I am very well educated and will be supporting Hillary.

    January 22, 2008 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  12. ll

    No more Obama for me! GO HILLARY

    January 22, 2008 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  13. bacalove

    Yesterday, at debate Barack Obama accurately predicted that the stock market may have a problem tomorrow due to some other country's stock market having low numbers and Wolf shot back, no one knows what will happen on the Stock Market tomorrow. Well, apparently, Obama DID and was able to have the foresight to connect the dots and prove that he is encomically astute!

    January 22, 2008 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  14. sally

    Fireworks was started by the CNN woman asking questions – when she asked Obama what his response was to some of Hilary's comments. This question opened up the whole debate to backbiting. I was not interested in the she said,did /he said ,did. This should have been cut off immediately and the candidates told to simply answer the questions as they are asked. i was interested in what the candidates planned to do about resolving economic issues, wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, health care and other issues.

    Before any more debates are held, I think all potential moderators should take lesssons from League of Womenn Voters. They appear to be the only ones that know how to moderate a political debate.

    January 22, 2008 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  15. Jay

    Bottom line…………By putting Bill Clinton in the white house to be second opinioned on everything Hillary says is going backwards not forward. FACT….his bully pulpit is much larger than hers will ever be!!!!

    January 22, 2008 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  16. howard

    I wanted to include this but was called away. I'm sure Wolf is a good guy but we somebody else do the debates. There is just to much kid gloves in these debates. People want meat and potatoes in this soup, not broth. Why don't you try Dobbs or someone that might push the envelope. We might as well find out now how they will be tight spot than to find out later they with unacceptable results.

    January 22, 2008 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  17. Christian L., New York

    As a lifelong Democrat, I was ashamed to see the political and personal bickering between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during the South Carolina debates. This type of deeply rooted negativity from members of the same party is unjustified and should cease and desist immediately. While both candidates charged each other over records and personal relationships, few issues were directly addressed and this is what should matter the most. Mr. Obama said it best when he stated that “no one’s hands are clean” in the election - a responsible assessment of the landscape in which they all play in. It would behoove all Democratic candidates – and that includes former Sen. John Edwards as well, to stop with the personal attacks and focus on America and its stunning and profound issues. So many people – Democrat, Republican and Independent are turned off by this type of nasty back and forth that instead of uniting the country as Mr. Obama touts will actually do the opposite. It is also unfortunate that Sen. Clinton cannot see past the irresponsible rhetoric that her husband and former President Bill Clinton is bringing into her campaign. It is unnecessary for Mr. Clinton to polarize what is already a heated contest between three worthy Democratic individuals.

    I have read tons of comments on message boards and web sites supporting all three candidates – most downplaying other candidates that they do not support. When will we get past the bickering and arguing as Americans and realize the dangerous shape that the economy is in, as well as the fact that we are in a war. Support the candidate of your choice, but leave the personal, frivolous and school yard attacks to children and stay focused on the prize that is getting a Democrat in the White House on Jan. 20, 2009.

    God Bless.

    January 22, 2008 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  18. Jack ny, ny

    Vince Los Angeles, CA
    please stop cut and paste. Just because you can doesn't mean your right or smarter than anyone else.

    January 22, 2008 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  19. Focus

    Nobody takes responsibility for anything these days.

    January 22, 2008 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  20. Marie in Arlington Tx

    Well Hillary didn't stay on topic nor respect her time limits. I guess you did a little better this time Wolf but really can't anyone shut her up and make her be respectful of the other candidates.

    Oh....I forgot this IS Hillary we are talking about. She has no respect for anyone but herself and Bill. What a sleeze.

    January 22, 2008 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  21. Peggy

    I think what we are seeing is Obama and Clinton's strategy of eliminating John Edwards from the Presidential Democratic campaign falling apart before our very eyes. You did nothing wrong. Obama and Clinton are the ones that made the fools of themselves. It is obvious that each one of them is more concerned about their own egos and agendas than the fact that most of middle and poor Americans are fighting to stay alive. I wish, in fact I challenge CNN to show John Edwards talking policy as much as the American media (including CNN) spends time watching Clinton and Obama in the kindergarten sandbox throwing sand/mud on each other. Who would want either of these two children to be President of the UNITED STATES.

    January 22, 2008 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  22. Tom Masters

    Wolf, I totally don't like how you do your job, but last night was the first time I've ever been ok with your performance.

    Thank you for keeping out of it and not being controlling.

    to howard: Dobbs instead of Wolf. Nope, Wolf did very well, Dobbs?! At least Wolf does ok from time to time in The Situation Room, Dobbs?! I have yet to see him do anything well. His opinionated comments are unruly and uncalled for, unprofessional and unwise.

    Wolf does a much better job.

    January 22, 2008 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  23. AJ, IL

    Wolf, on the Universal health care question, you seem to imply that Hillary's plan advocated illegal immigrants getting health care because Edwards was quick to say he thinks all Democratic candidates plans did not include illegal immigrants. Does Hilllary universal plan include illegal immigrants?

    January 22, 2008 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  24. Steve


    You did a great job last night.

    January 22, 2008 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  25. Scott

    I think it is important to distinguish this from an actual debate. This was glorified Springer. It makes me wonder if any of these so called journalists have ever even seen a real, actual, moderated debate. Probably not. Real journalism is dead, and has been dead for a long time.

    January 22, 2008 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
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