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. Anonymous


    You did the best you could do. After reading these posts and listening to the pundits, the only thing you can conclude regarding your role in all this is, you can't please everyone. Quite frankly, I'm glad Sen. Obama made the choice he did and became the aggressor last night. Sen. Clinton had it coming, one of Sen. Clinton's claims of being tough and can take on " the big boys", there is no question, Sen. Obama can be just as tough. Everyone cried about how he was trying to stay above the fray and the Clinton camp needed to figure out a way to drag him in the mud with the rest of the "experienced" candidates. Well, they succeeded. Over the last couple of weeks they've (Clinton camp) been trying to bloody him (Sen. Obama) up and take him off message, again they succeeded. After watching last night's debate, I wasn't 100% sure who I was voting for but I know I'm definitely not voting for Hillary Clinton because I really don't want to see her husband back in the White House for a third term, let's keep it real. Don't beat yourself up Wolf not everyone's going to be happy because everyone doesn't want to be.

    January 22, 2008 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  2. Edwards in '08

    Thanks for hosting the fight, Wolf. It was clearly the big night with the pair of Political Pugalists in the ring, while the only "presidential" candidate kept his hands clean on the sidelines – John Edwards.

    While we watch Obama and Clinton self-destruct, it will be only a matter of time before Edwards rises to the top of the ticket. Go John, go!!!

    January 22, 2008 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  3. Jolie

    The media and political classes forget that the world is full of people who will at the end of the day notice little difference to their lives whoever is in charge. Even of their own country. Therefore it makes not a lot of difference who wins. Except that (as a Times columnist argued very well a while back) Hillary presents the most acceptable face of America and their ideology. Shame I can't vote, fingers crossed.

    January 22, 2008 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  4. MAR

    I thought Wolf Blitzer did a horrible job. Once again fuel the flames instead of pushing to talk about the issues.

    January 22, 2008 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  5. geraldine johnson

    nd interests, what has she accomplished to help those same people who are without jobs, homes, credit.

    Miss Hillary sits on her ivory tower blasting Sen Obama. I would rather have someone not vote on an issue if it is wrong and take a stand, than vote on an issue and cause so much hardship and pain toward a society simply because she wants to be accepted as on of the boys.

    January 22, 2008 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  6. EST

    I think that Obama should be chafe from sitting on the fence with some many issues. Clinton and Edwards made a valid point that he never takes a major stance. I am black and a woman and this time I would vote for Clinton all the way!

    January 22, 2008 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  7. Jenna

    I think that the debate was very good, and I am glad that someone is bringing out the issues concerning Obama. It has seemed like the media is afraid to bring out the tough questions that a presidential candidate should have to divulge.

    Records are important, I dont want someone running the country that does not vote on 100 plus bills when he is present in the house. What are we paying him for. If an average person had that position and responsibility and decided no to do their job on 100 projects, he or she would be terminated from employment. How arrogant can he continue being!

    Honesty is also important, I have researched who he is, upbringing, faith, slum lord supporter, and due to these issues I have decided to support Hillary Clinton for president.

    Hillary Clinton for President!

    January 22, 2008 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  8. manny james marietta ga

    You did an outstanding job Wolf. The country needed to see what Obama And Hillary is Made of.. I was Impressed with both of them.. However, I will be voting for Hillary.. I am African American and it became clear to me last nite that Hillary his the issues on her side.. Hope is good, but we need Substance.. Obama in 2012...Hillary 08

    January 22, 2008 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  9. Martin

    In response to Sarah, posted 1/22/08 @ 4:53 PM ET.
    It is my opinion that the Media limits the time given to the candidate in relation to the amount of funds that they receive in contributions from Corporations buying influence.
    These same Corporations support the media through the purchase of adverting. If you complain about the fact that John Edwards was shortchanged, you should consider what they did to Dennis Kucinich, Joe Biden , etal.
    These so called debates are anything but.
    They are opportunies for the preferred Candidates to push their agendas.
    If the public believes that we have a Democratic system for the election of our President, I think they should take another look.
    We have to take a look at public Financing and make it illegal for any pubic official to accept any gratuity .

    January 22, 2008 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  10. Thomas


    As an ex-Hillary to an Obama supporter in the past 3 weeks, I have to admit that Edwards stood out among them all.

    Hillary is a joke and a polarizing figure around the country; people are tired of the Clintons and their sad act. Who wants four more years of sexual scandal, false promises, and partisan politics because the Clintons can't win support from anyone accross the aisles of Congress?

    Edwards just isn't believable or viable as a President albeit he would be a great running mate–his avocation.

    Obama showed he was not seasoned in the world of political battle, especially on par with Hillary, which is not a slight on his make-up but a plus to the freshness he brings to the job. He can unite both DEMs, INDs, and REPs, get America refocused on its own issues, and possibly deconstruct the notion of American Empire around the globe.

    It took Federal Attorneys, the RNC, and myriad conservative "think-tanks" and strategists to devise, uncover, and attack the Clintons for the past 16 years and the latter still come out a bit unscathed. If Obama topples them, he should be Emperor not President.


    January 22, 2008 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  11. Tim

    The questions from the female panel member to Ms. Clinton were embarrassingly soft ball give-away nature, whereas her questions to Senator Obama were pointed and seemed to be designed to put him on the defensive.

    January 22, 2008 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  12. Scott, Madison, WI

    I became more apparent – (not that any futher proof was required) – upon every word that came out of her mouth that lifelong Dems like me will never vote for Hillary. Add that to independents and the salivating Republican party and that equals 100% unelectable!

    Why isn't the MSM reporting this underestimated fact!

    January 22, 2008 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  13. jr

    I think Wolf did a great job. I just have one question what did Sen. Edwards do for the lady who he meet with no heating? It was a very touching story. I want to know if he helped her in her time of need?

    January 22, 2008 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  14. joe

    I'm a democract, but if Hillary get's in, then I'm hoping Bloomberg get's in. Barack Obama will win. Make no mistake. Are you listening to the people, media people?

    January 22, 2008 06:06 pm at 6:06 pm |
  15. sam madino

    WB and CNN (Clinton News Network) are too pro-hillary to keep things neutral. For god's sake they have Hillary's biographer part of their "best" political team. Give me a break.

    January 22, 2008 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  16. Brendan, Allentown, NJ

    Great journalism Blitzer, way to mention John Edwards- everyone saw him win the debate, apparently you forgot to mention he showed up.

    January 22, 2008 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  17. Christopher Barton

    If Wolf is getting criticized from both sides, that means he's doing his job.
    It's difficult to moderate when you have few rules. The candidates are going to constantly ask for more air time to respond, so you can't win.

    January 22, 2008 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  18. celloplayer

    Wolf, You really earned every penny of your salary with last night's debate. Congrats. To have a sensitive use of timing–when to intervene and when to let the candidates weaken each other to smithereens! I do know that I am a democrat, but that's as far as it goes. I have been undecided so far and now I am really undecided. My 14-yr-old daughter watched the debate and until then really looked up to Hillary for a variety of respectful reasons. Now, she questions Hillary because of her outbursts and was shattered to see that she was not capable of addressing the questions head on, without blasting her opponents instead. I am sad to see that my daughter, one sampling of our country's future voters, is already witnessing this sort of negativity from the core of America's leaders.

    January 22, 2008 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    This was not a debate, Wolf. This was a news entertainment show at best. If the trash entertainment news outlets would sponsor a true debate, voters might actually learn something about the candidates adn the usses.
    You say you were surprised by the heated exchanges but omitted how delighted CNN surely must have been for such a good show.
    In he end, shame on the canddiates for agreeing to patricipate in any of these Jerry Spinger-eques disaster.
    This is the last debate I'll be watching this year.

    January 22, 2008 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  20. Rob,nyc,ny

    Sad to see the Clinton campaign stoop to the level of Karl Rove in their power grab. Independent voters and forward-thinking Democrats are drawn to Obama because he builds consensus around progressive issues. Hillary seems to be rehearsing the old tactics which have netted Democrats exactly how many presidencies in the past two elections?

    January 22, 2008 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  21. gh

    I vote Republican and am not a fan of CNN’s coverage in general, but the last night’s debate was exciting and memorable. It was a political wrestling match.

    Mr. Blitzer should have required the candidates to be more respectful of the debate’s rules of engagement. The debate seemed to be on the edge of getting out of hand, but maybe that added to its appeal.

    January 22, 2008 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  22. Mia Fernandez

    Last night's debate was flawless! Wolf was as magnificent as ever. Suzanne Malveaux and Joe Johns had amazing questions for all candidates. Great job to everyone at CNN. I feel enriched by what I was able to learn last night. Thank you.

    January 22, 2008 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  23. TennMom

    It was obvious from the beginning that CNN set up the questions to create the "fireworks" they are now touting. What bothered me most was that Edwards was treated as a third wheel. I'm not going to watch another debate, no matter who hosts it. I have better things to do with my time.

    January 22, 2008 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  24. Tony sails, london, england

    it is quite unfurtunate that people in america have no idea of their tanished image in the outside world. not even britain is ready to play along the american tune like it did before. that makes obama the definate front-runner who has the image and ability to put america into the the limelight of favour from must countries in the world. clinton may brag about having 35years of experience. i would very much want to know exactly want field of experience she she seems to brag so much about. if it is 35years of experience as the bill's wife, then it is unquestionably true, but if she speaks about good governance then she lies to the people of the world at large and america specifically. one other field she may have experience is being a great actoress. she explixitly showed this to all who would watch during her new hamshire campaign. this is not a contest of who has the must socially accepted friends or who bought what house. it is about the best choice of president and it is OBAMA.

    January 22, 2008 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  25. Frank Nunzio

    Tuesday, Jan. 22

    Dear Wolf,

    I have always had the highest respect for you, but hearing you speaking to John Johnson, on today's "Situation Room," you misrepresented the time frame. It was Hillary defending herself from Obama's attack. I believe that Obama orchestrated this to time with his recent TV ad.

    Obama attacked Hillary first –about working for Walmart–she responded after his attack.

    Play your tape if you don't belive me. I hope you can set the record straight.


    PS. By the way, I'm a Republican.

    January 22, 2008 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
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