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. Joe

    I think the Clinton camp has got it backwards. Hillary and Bill are the ones who are frustrated Because they can't get rid of Obama. He may not win the nomination but i hope he gives them Hell all the way to the end. I thought the Clintons were the Champions of the Blacks. Its a little different when a black person runs against them. All of the sudden they turn white again.

    January 22, 2008 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  2. Jay


    Why did you not ask the question why all three Dem candidates voted not to have English as our primary language????????????????

    On Obama I have seen pics where he is on stage with Hillary and Bill Richardson and they both have there hands over their hearts during the national anthem while Obama would not. Have him address this.

    What about gun control, abortion and gay rights?????????????????

    These are important issues although not Dem stong points still issues that are important.


    January 22, 2008 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  3. Linda in Colorado

    I can only echo that which has already been said, and add, please, more of the same! Healthy conflict delineates, and all three candidates did a fine job of showing us their strong sides.

    Hillary, honed by years of vicious opposition attacks, remained centered, unwavering, in terrific command of substantive facts, and able to take it all in stride, with laughs and smiles. Who else could I want -in negotiation, diplomacy, and defense – representing the American people? (That's a rhetorical question, Obama fans.)

    January 22, 2008 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  4. charlotte

    Wolf I expected you to step in and I'm glad you didn't. Obama showed everyone he is not good under pressure He hem and hawed and IF IF IFed himself into a corner. He started something he could not finish....He is a good speaker with a prepared speech. No time for rewrites when the mike is on.

    January 22, 2008 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  5. marcello

    Hey I think it was good you decide to keep quiet on the debate, sometimes you interfere too much. You a great anchor but I think its time for you to come forward and say you supporting Obama, you are making it to obvios...look at the tapes of the situation room how you introduce the topics , sometimes its too much budddy. Just a thought....dont forget you a moderator.

    January 22, 2008 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  6. Bob Whitman

    I couldn't agree more with the fellow's comments from Conway, SC, Wolf seems to look for questions that stir the pot, invitations for candidate comparisons versus invitations for discuss platform and issue differences. abcnews held the best debate in New Hamshire, I don't believe that had anything to do with the number of debators, but the intent and purpose to fill out candidate answers on the issues. Wolf, watch a tape of that debate, watch it two or three times and try to emulate.

    January 22, 2008 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  7. Corey

    Hillary will say anything to get elected. Her attacks on Obama continue to turn off people, and if she wins the nomination several democrats will go ahead and vote for McCain.

    January 22, 2008 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  8. JoAnn

    This was the best debate yet!!!!

    Hillary has not missed a beat. She is a political star who is READY TO LEAD.

    We don't need another President who will learn on the job. Experience speaks louder than inspirational speeches. Hope our citizens get to see this. I also want to make a point, being a Michigan resident that Hillary was the only one out of the top 3 Democratic candidates on the ballot during our primaries. Even though MI Democratic primaries didn't allocate delegates to the candidates Hillary made sure that her supporters had their voices heard. Obama and Edwards keep talking about every single voice counting, how about fighting for the people of Michigan?

    Wolf did a great job yesterday! We need to know who can hold it together under pressure and who stumbles.

    January 22, 2008 06:34 pm at 6:34 pm |
  9. Julie

    CNN clearly favours Hillary Clinton. She gets a lot of air time, while Obama gets "quoted" most of the time. His records and statements are questioned as though CNN is on the Clinton Campaign. When will she be put on the defensive?

    January 22, 2008 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  10. Eric Pearce

    Edwards was the clear winner last night. No more squabbling, and more media coverage for edwards would be nice.

    January 22, 2008 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  11. JoshH

    Wow...amazing. After more than two weeks of the Clinton slime machine constantly trying to ruin Obama, he finally defends himself and everyone here thinks Hillary was the better of the two?

    Yeah, continue to convince yourself Hillary is the better of the two...that's exactly what the Republicans want.

    January 22, 2008 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  12. Lori

    The winner last night? I think it was a tie - Edwards and Clinton.

    Edwards, for what little time he was allowed to interject in the Obama Hour Show, was concise and actually directly answered the questions on the floor.

    Clinton – for being able to withstand the temper tantrum antics of Obama last night and hammer home her points. What I find ironic –Hilary has taken hits for the last 16 years quietly. Last night she finally really spoke up and people were turned off.

    Clinton and Edwards both directly asked Obama about his voting record and his response? It's a state practice for Illinois. I am a resident of IL and yes, unfortunately, it is a BAD HABIT of Illinois representatives to vote PRESENT. It's a COP OUT. For an individual running a campaign theme of TIME FOR CHANGE - he'd better learn to vote like an adult.

    I will wholeheartedly agree that the focus of the debate should NOT have been the spar between Obama and Hilary. I'm sensing Obama is starting to feel the slide. He was directly asked the question by two individuals about his voting record and still couldn't answer the question - not presidential material in my opinion!

    January 22, 2008 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    Hillary showed herself just exactly as she is–mean spirited and power hungry and getting desperate. How intelligent is a woman that time after time for years refuses to see that her husband is cheating on her and publicly lies about it? Last night, it seemed as if she was TRYING to take credit for anything/everything that Bill Clinton did. How can she take credit for anything? The main job she was given while her husband was president was to find a solution for health care and she MISERABLY FAILED while spending tremendous amounts of money holding dinners to discuss health care.
    I must admit that I am now considering voting for Obama. Time will tell.

    January 22, 2008 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  14. v.cifaldi&paul



    January 22, 2008 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  15. Geri

    I'm watching your program right now & why don't you come out and just say to the viewers that you endorse Obama. CNN has become so biased that its not even funny. Edwards & Clinton have not got a chance with you, Cafferty, Malveau, or most of the other reporters on CNN. What did they ever do to you?? I've been home sick today so have watched CNN almost all day and this is disgusting.
    I thought the news was supposed to be fair and not opinionated. Talk about Bill O....you guys are getting just like him.

    January 22, 2008 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  16. Joe in DE

    The debates have been wak in getting at the canidates position on important issues.

    The Mdia has fanned – perhaps unintentionally – the back-biting.

    January 22, 2008 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  17. Jesse

    Can anyone imagine Joe Biden, Chris Dodd or Bill Richardson acting as childish, disconnected, selfish and foolish as both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton did last night? Thanks to Iowa and New Hampshire for choosing the celebrity candidates who are either too vacuous (Obama) or too narcissistic (Clinton) to care about genuine issues and address them in a way that exudes confidence, understanding and expertise.

    January 22, 2008 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  18. JE NY

    CNN definitely helped plant the seeds that started those outbursts with their questions to the candidates. You knew exactly what you were doing. CNN is showing partiality, and that is ugly. Shame on you.

    January 22, 2008 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  19. Bruce

    I appreciated the format of the debate and the opportunity for the candidates to let loose. One thing really bothered me, however. The fact that the arrangement of the candidates was the same for both parts of the debate. Both Hilary Clinton and John Edwards had an open side throughout the debate. Barack Obama was trapped in the middle the whole time and the appearance was that he was being attacked from both sides.

    Could that not have been predicted? Why not a round table with all equal at least for the second session?

    January 22, 2008 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  20. christine

    I thought the so-called "squabbling" between Hilary and Obama was great! This is what DEBATES are about…real engagement, back and forth, and excitement. But I don't call that squabbling; it is the fine art of debating. Seriously, the debates in America are so boring; but last night's debate kept me listening and kept my family, who was watching it with me, reacting to it throughout the debate. I want to see more debates like that! I think you did a fine job Wolf!

    January 22, 2008 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  21. jd

    I don't blame CNN or the media in general for the lack of substance in the debate or in election coverage. If there was no audience for glorified, star-struck, trivial news, they would not be running or printing it. Last night was good, entertaining tv, like an episode of Survivor or American Idol. The value we might have seen in John Edwards' positions and policy plans were muted by the others. Unfortunately, Senator Edwards is not a rock star in comparison to his components.

    January 22, 2008 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  22. T

    Everybody knows Obama started it with the ridiculous WalMart comment. The only reason Obama survived yesterday was because the audience was on his side: otherwise, he was pretty much getting hammered by Hillary and Edwards. And I noticed also noticed that Obama continuously avoided questions posed to him by both Hillary and Edwards and tried to use his skills with words to meander out of answering these questions. This is why I don't think he is ready to be president.

    January 22, 2008 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  23. David

    On a more serious note, I think Wolf did the best job he could have done. I think that the candidates were each trying to promote themselves and demote their fellow candidates, including Edwards. Many people have said that Edwards was mature, but that isn't exactly true. Edwards also made comments about the other two candidates, maybe not as many as Senator Barak Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton but he did make a few jabs.

    Personally, I think that Hillary's comments have been manipulative and she has been distorting comments by Obama and deliberately misrepresenting his voting record since day one, and I am sick of it. However, Obama isn't innocent because he recently decided to take part in the 'mud slinging'. Whether or not that is Obama's fault though is a separate issue because if he is constantly being attacked he needs to respond, which I think we saw a lot of last night.

    Unfortunately we have come to expect this negativity. It is depressing that our politics has stooped to this low level and commands such little respect. The political game played today is a disgrace to our founding fathers and the system which they worked so hard to establish. Politics today should be less about politicking and more about their plans to improve the country.

    I also think that what we saw last night was your typical political clash. Every election, presidential, senate, governor, etc., we see these dirty nasty politics. Quite frankly I'm sick of them because there are ways to promote yourself without degrading your opponents. The presidential election shouldn't be about power, and the candidates shouldn't be as concerned about their personal gain in the election, they and the election should be about who is going to help the United States prosper, gain respect, and do the most justice for the country. I think that that is the most important thing that the media, candidates, and American people should focus on.

    January 22, 2008 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  24. Keith T

    I have always said being a Democrat I would vote for the nominee. But, after watching how Hillary and Bill try to divide and conquer and become mean spirited, I am now committed NOT to vote for Hillary under any circumstances. I hope Obama wins, but Hillary has put that foul taste back in my mouth with that less than sincere smile and Wicked Witch of the West demeanor. We know what you're up to Hillary, how about being human for once and energize the party and work together instead of using pit bull bill and then hiding behind him acting as if you are innocent? This has the potential to wreck the party. As a SC voter, I'll vote for Obama or Edwards if they are the nominee, otherwise, I'll vote Republican for the first time ever.

    January 22, 2008 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  25. Kathryn Dugovich

    I cannot see the Clinton appeal, this country isn't supposed to be run by a dynasty.
    Hillary may be smart ,but, legislatively Obama has more experience and I would trust Edwards more that the Clinton's. I am over 50, a social studies teacher and I have at least four other professional women friends who feel as I do. Yes, to a woman in the white house but not because she was first lady or wife of a governor. Obama can take the heat and he proved it last night. It was a great debate and I thought Mr. Blitzer did a fine job of letting the candidates speak out. I would say it was the best debate I have watched, ever. Thank you, CNN. I am ready for either Edwards or Obama to unite the country and get the country back on track.

    January 22, 2008 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
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