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. irma

    Present yourself in an appealing manner, of course; however, be ready to defend everything that you stand for or are; and don't let them get away with the argument, all of this is great training. Look, I do support Hillary. Nevertheless; I also support Democrats far, far more than Republicans. Yes, I know there are good, kind hearted Republicans, but they still have their own interest. They have a certain philosophy on their approach to governing. That is why they are Republicans and others are Democrats, or Green party, etc. Sorry, don't get on my case here. I want our philosophy, the Democratic philosophy defended. In my opinion, being a Democrat is taking a stand on what you believe as a group. What do we believe as Democrats? Why are you Obama people Democrats? Why are you Hillary people Democrats? Why are you for Senator Edwards? What have they done that impresses you? Give me something real that we would find easily. Don't tell people to go to a site. Just tell them. You believe something, tell us. Why do you support who you support? Also ask yourself; what will most people think is important. I want Republicans to do the same thing. Let's have that kind of conversation. Also, what’s with all the cuss words in the various comments? Aren't there enough words in the acceptable language that you can use people? Let’s all make our arguments look good. Oh yeah and Barack started it!

    January 22, 2008 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  2. kym - seattle, wa

    First let me say – GO Hillary! Though I think Edwards may have come out on top in last night's debate, I thoroughly enjoyed the entire 2 hours. Thanks for doing such a great job Wolf and for making the choice to let them spar a little. It was very telling and didn't bode too well for Obama. Just my .02.

    January 22, 2008 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  3. Anne

    To Wolf Blitzer: You are okay in my book as long as you don't favor either side in this campaign. I thought you favored Ms. Clinton at first.

    I think you did a good job last night. Thank you very much.

    January 22, 2008 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  4. Jenna


    Also, I agree with Tina, she states that the spouse's of Obama and Edwards are allowed to attack presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and the media double standards this issue because Bill Clinton is a male. It make no difference, he has the same rights as Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Edwards. Cut the unfairness, I have started watching Fox News Channel more often now than CNN, becuase of CNN's bias against the Clintons and the favortism for Obama. Fox is much better at reporting the news fairly and honestly and letting us decide. (the viewers-Customers).

    Please, I ask that your news people report the news, and quit making personal wise cracks about their personal perceptions.

    Hope CNN can get with the program!

    Hillary Clinton, for President 2008!

    January 22, 2008 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  5. Rod Willis

    I thought we weren't supposed to see color or gender. It's about the issues and where the candidate stand on these issues, so why would Clinton looses some of the black votes if Obama didn't get the nomination. The idea of if a black doesn't get the nomination I won't vote seems a little racest to me.

    January 22, 2008 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  6. Lori

    Excellent job Wolf - However, I have a few suggestions:

    Pose questions to the candidates about legislation they have supported and VOTED FOR - check them for their records and actions. And furthermore, the serious issues we are facing today - the plummeting economy, the flailing job market, and health care.

    Obama clearly VOTED PRESENT for some of these serious issues - I would have loved to have seen him explain why he DID NOT VOTE for increased funding for Farm Bill programs, or why he DID NOT VOTE for funding of OB/GYN health care in rural areas.

    January 22, 2008 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  7. Janis

    Has any moderator asked a question....how do you feel you can help retirees make ends meet with the cost of living going higher each year? Retirees DO pay income taxes...salaries are higher than 20 years ago,,,please make that clear if you have another debate. If was a joke to see Hillary try to compose herself. The minute her back gets against the wall, the TEARS will flow again,,,people will give her sympathy and vote for her,,,husband, (slick Willie who cheated how many times? (too many to count!) her mother and Chelsea are in the act now like she 'deserves' to be president. The whole campaign is a fiasco and we don't need comments from Canada...keep your politics north of the border. We don't interfere with you-stay out of ours. Obama had every right to ask–which Clinton am I running with? She snapped "I'm here". Edwards was sitting like a clam waiting to express his views....no fairness in equal time among the candidates was displayed. However, Obama finally got his message out--he's ready for DAY ONE behind the oval desk..am sure Michelle won't be advising him!!

    January 22, 2008 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  8. AW

    as a matter of fact obama didn't start the feud, the clinton campaign did – in the days before the debate, understood. I understand that obama had to respond to those "inaccurate" (obama) accusations, and therefore if you want to blame someone for the fight blame hillary/Bill

    January 22, 2008 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  9. Rafael

    Obama speaks of uniting America. But on yesterdays debate he revealed his plan for unifying the country. He is betting the Democrats are going to win many more seats on both Houses, and then all these Democrats are just going to line up behind him and do what he think is good for the country. I do believe his intentions are really good, but a bit naive. Even if the Democrats won all the seats on both Houses, they will never agree on much. We need someone more centered. To handle both sides of the aisle.

    January 22, 2008 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  10. Sabrina, Nampa Idaho

    After being on the fence about Edwards or Obama, after last night's debate, and I had to vote right now, Edwards would get my vote. I went to Elko and listened to Obama and I was deeply moved. That is not what I saw last night. I understand you need to defend yourself, but to give those snipey comments was disappointing. I still believe that Obama and or Edwards would make excellent Presidents & Vice Presidents.

    January 22, 2008 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  11. Harry

    Hopefully, both Clinton and Obama learned a lesson on how to stay out of the elementary school yard. That turned a lot of folks off both of them.

    I know that the economy is big at the moment, but I would like to see some discussion of energy, climate change and the candidates plans to reduce our carbon footprint in the world. Same questions to the republicans candidates.

    The economy goes up and down, but the future of the planet is at stake with our trashing the environment.

    January 22, 2008 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  12. Naomi

    Wolf, I used to like the Clintons and didnt understand why Reps hated them... now seeing the Clinton's true colors, Ive decided to vote for the Rep nominee if Hill/Bill win the nomination. Thats right... Bill and Hill will say/do anything to get back to the Whitehouse.

    If Clintons win, we will see partisan politics and games at their best.

    January 22, 2008 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  13. Alex in IL


    Hillary's Rezko shot was in RESPONSE to Obama's below the belt Wal-mart jab. Not the other way around. Come on, you were there, you can do better than that.

    January 22, 2008 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  14. Tino

    I think there are some issues that are worth mentioning . I have watched CNN's reporting especially Wolf's subtle messagess meant to sabotage Barrack's chances. Cases in point, Barrack raised the issue of the falling stock markets and Wolf retorted "no one knows what will happen tomorrow" The whole day today on the situation room, Wolf clearly was so crafty on how he presented issues as if to say the heated debated between the three senators was somehow Barrack and Hillary sniping at each other when in fact before the debate he suggested fireworks. When you get fireworks, you then present it as if it were not childish. For a month now Barrack's record has been embellished by the Clinton campaign.

    January 22, 2008 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  15. Todd

    Edwards so clearly rose above the other two that to deny it is to simply admit that the media do not want him rattling their cages. He was articulate, well-studied, thoughtful, and clearly able to lead.

    HE was the only one debating. The other two were politicking. Please stop trying to tell us who our candidate is going to be. We saw the debate and can judge for ourselves. Edwards was the only president on that stage.

    January 22, 2008 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  16. Lorie

    If voters do not know where these canidates stand on issues by now... You have not been paying attention. Go to the websites, compare the policies, reserch the things you have questions on or the things you do not understand.

    These canidates have been repeating themselves for a year now. How could you really not know where they stand? These canidates are spending obsence amounts of money to get you to vote for them. Money that would solve major issues with homelessness and hunger in this country and you are saying you are still confused. PLEASE....

    January 22, 2008 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  17. Voter 08

    Hillary did just fine last night. Obama was clearly the bully looking for a fight. Clinton answered the first question, and Barack started whining about everything he said was settled in the last debate. He would have been great as a colonist enumerating a list og grievances to King George. I think she got inside his head and he went nuclear. It takes thick skin to politick at this level. We need a leader that's not going to blink when staring down the next threat to our nation. A leader who is ready on Day One in the WH. A leader who can grasp the mind-boggling scope of so many difficult problems we have. And, yes, that person must have some measure of organization and organizational skills.Y ou just can't forget where you put the key to "the suitcase." I would feel comfortable with Hillary...and yes, with Bill being there ,too.

    January 22, 2008 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  18. Bob

    Hey BLITZER. How many times are you going to say "the best political team on tv"??????? Your driving us nuts. Please STOP!!

    January 22, 2008 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  19. joe valente

    I'm stunned! You agree with no criticism on any strategy you have employed during any debate. It must be nice to be so complacent in your utter mediocrity.

    January 22, 2008 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  20. James Martin

    Edwards was the clear winner. I am a lifelong Democrat but will have to take a look at McCain if either Obama or Clinton are nominated. How foolish the demos are if the throw away this oportunity by running either Obama or Clinton.

    January 22, 2008 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  21. ben getty

    Wolf Blitzer does not qualify to narrate a Junior High Debate. CNN should be ashamed of their selves for giving Blitzer the microphone. He is a complete disgrace to CNN. GET HIM OFF TV.

    January 22, 2008 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  22. Ron Monks

    I think it's clear from the debate that none of those mini-brained super egos sees gaining the presidency as anything other than a means to greater fame, fortune and power for themselves..

    January 22, 2008 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  23. elly

    I absolutely hate seeing all this bickering. It makes me feel like I can't dicuss politics with anyone because it has become so divisive. I know the candidates are looking for differences, etc. to illustrate their points but this is ridiculas. However, I think the media has started a lot of this by provoking the candidates, starting rumors, putting words in their mouths and definately showing bias against Hillary and giving Barack a free ride. I guess it's not doing him any favors if he does get the nomination because he will be in shock when the Republicans get started.

    January 22, 2008 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  24. Bill Ritchie

    There was a time when we watched CNN for fair news reporting. That has changed during this campaign season. Wof Blitzer coulld qualify as Obama's
    campaign manager and Cafferty's hate for the Clinton Family is reflected in almost every word that comes out of his mouth on the political subject. So much for fair reporting. We still watch Tony Harris who may be the only professional left on CNN but for the most part, we have gone back to ABC and Charles Gibson to watch the news the way it should be reported.

    January 22, 2008 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  25. John B.

    I think CNN knew the questions to ask in order to get the fight started. Listening today to Wolf I see he was disappointed that we didn't fall for it. I hope at the debate on the 31st they ask questions on the issuss and not try to start another fight.

    January 22, 2008 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
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