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. Erick

    Even though Obama tried to not make this campaign about race, it has become about race. Blame Bill Clinton for that. By the time Hillary wins the nomination, she will have angered many African Americans. There will then be a White backlash. Thanks Democratic party for doing so much to bring the country together.

    January 22, 2008 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  2. Jason, Edmonton Alberta Canada

    As I watch this debate from north of the border I can see one thing developing. That would be the possability of another Republican administration. Both of these candidates (Obama vs. Clinton) have their faults but here is how I generally see it. Clinton is too polarizing to win a general election, people either love or hate her as with most things Clinton, she will push moderates away from the democrats and Obama is an unknown commodity. In the end a strong Republican candidate might be able to skewer both with their "stomp my feet until I get what I want" debating. I am afraid for Americans and the fact they might have to endure another Reblican administration.

    January 22, 2008 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  3. cindy

    The facilitator should bear some of the blame for the fireworks set off during the South Carolina debate. I would like for you to show us the question that was asked just before the first attack. I think one of the candidates was ask to respond to an allegation that was made by another candidate. That question had nothing to do with the issues. The questions asked during a debate should be related to issues. Please, don't throw flames on the fire. We deserve more from you.

    January 22, 2008 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  4. Marcia Burkett

    I thought the Democratic debate last night was great! At last we got to hear ALL three candidates challenge each other 's records, get to some unanswered questions, and John Edwards finally stood on his own hill and tooted his own horn. I like the John Edwards I saw last night. I liked that real stuff finally came out, and that there were serious discussions among them. I really like it when John Edwards said it’s O.K. for us to argue about an issue that needed details brought out for the voters to be able to see exactly what their stances are. I like it that we got to see who has the stamina to keep standing when the issues are tough. During this time in our nation we are going to need someone that can with stand the pressure, keep on working toward the goals that are important to the well being of Americans and the world. We are going to have to lead the way back to unity on this planet, lead in energy independence with renewal energy sources like sun and wind, create a more equal balance for all people, not just white, not just black, not just brown, but for human kind. That’s a dream that is worth my hope, and my vote. I WANT TO KNOW WHAT THEY’VE DONE, WHAT THEY HAVEN’T DONE, NOT ALL IS AS TRANSPARENT AS ONE MIGHT SAY. WOLF, KEEP UP THE DEBATES.

    January 22, 2008 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  5. Carolyn

    All these comments that are negative reactions to Sen. Obama's performance last night convince me that the Clinton attack strategy is working. He had to defend himself against the charges that he endorsed Ronald Reagan, that he is a "secret" Muslim, that he hasn't held a consistent position on the war. He had to dispel these mis-representations many of which are directly attributable to Hillary and Bill. If he doesn't defend himself, he will go the same way McCain did against the dirty tricks from the Bush Campaign. The Clinton's have forced Obama into a defensive position instead of focusing on his promising message of reaching across party lines. I'm afraid we are in for at least 4 years of the hateful partisanship led by a bitter Hillary Clinton. For her, a majority is 50 + 1, for Obama it is a plurality.

    January 22, 2008 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  6. Jack

    The system need to stop given Obama and Edward free ride. Every time I turn on the TV someone is blasting the Clinton's. During the debate last nite Obama was the first one to blast Bill Clinton.

    January 22, 2008 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  7. Mike McKibben, Fl

    Last nights Democratic debate was, to say the least, a lively interaction among people who.......................knew each other. It was nice to see a little life in the candidates who want the most important job in this country (if not the world). After watching some of the Republican debates, it was nice to see something moving rather than just lips. It would have been nice to hear a little more from Sen. Edwards, but when he did finally get the opportunity to speak, he took full advantage of it. Considering the economy issue, at least the candidates seemed to be aware of the fact that there was a problem. I listened to the Republicans today, and each candidate that I heard talking today were talking about abortion and tax breaks to the wealthy. Didn't we do that in 2000 and 2004? And where did that get us? I was for Edwards before the debate, and nothing changed that at the end of the debate.
    And Wolf, or who really bothers to read these things, please tell Lou Dobbs that being an Independent sounds great, but in Florida, because it is a closed priimary, and there are no Independent candidates, Independents can't vote in the primary. Until that changes, the best we can do is be of independent thought.

    January 22, 2008 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  8. Rohanna

    Yes, Wolf, yes. I agree with you 100 percent. All good. Yep.

    January 22, 2008 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  9. Onari

    I think the American people saw the real candidates and where the stand on the issues. It was great Obama was made to answer some tough questions. Voters the decision is yours to seperate the Women/men from the girls/boys.

    Wolf, great job keep it up, so that candidates will not be hiding under stump speeches that reveal nothing of them....

    January 22, 2008 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  10. Rena

    Good job, Wolf! Thanks for allowing Obama & Clinton to battle it out. I'm especially glad that Obama addressed all the lies and half-truths eminating from the "Billiary" twosome who are BOTH running for president. Last night's debate brought out the nagging shrew in Hilliary and evidence that she feels that she's ENTITLED to the Presidency. There was a time when I had admiration for the Clintons, but their sneaky tactics in this race against Obama in the recent weeks have revealed their true characteristics. Obama definitely has my vote!!

    January 22, 2008 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  11. Ally

    Last night's debate, despite the nitpicking, insult-flinging, and rhetoric between Senators Obama and Clinton, illustrated a few things that I have thought for a long time now:

    1. I would still choose any of them over any of the Republicans, and I could find something nice (and something not-so-nice) to say about each of them.
    2. That said, with all due respect to all of them, John Edwards appeared to be the candidate who, in the little time allotted to him to speak, elevated the discourse and attempted to steer the discussion back to the issues at hand.
    3. However, I feel that John Edwards, in the typical fashion of late, was not given an equal amount of time or attention. This is the first election in which I am eligible to vote, and I am really excited to see a lot of young people getting "involved" in the election, but I would really, really like to see more of them (actually, this applies to people of all ages) do their homework when it comes to choosing a candidate to support. The media shouldn't do it for them, but the reality is, CNN and other mainstream media networks ARE one of the primary sources of "information" for most Americans, and as one of the more objective (at least compared with Fox etc.) stations available with election coverage, I feel that it is your responsibility as good journalists to give all of the candidates an equal opportunity to tell the world what they have to say. Interestingly, despite being alloted less time last night, I feel that Edwards said more of substance than the other two combined.

    January 22, 2008 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  12. American

    response to: AL in Mesa Az

    It's unfortunate that the only reason why you are voting for Hillary Clinton is because you have superiority complex. Just because Latino's are the largest minority group doesn't mean that the black influence isn't vital to the national campaign. To be honest, Latino's and African Americans have very similar struggles in our society. If we could find a way to stick together instead of defaming one another then we will see unbelieveable changes in our communities.

    This message comes from an African American woman who lives in a predominately Latino neighborhood, who's best friend of 13 years is Latin and who has all the respect in the world for racial/social equality.

    Vote for the right reasons. Because you believe in the message of the candidate and because the candidate is capable of carrying out their promises. Not because of the color of their skin and not because you have disdain for a certain racial group.

    January 22, 2008 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  13. Murry

    Wolf, you were smart to stay out of the way.
    Hillary continues to spar with her long talons and Obama skillfully deflects each blow.
    Hillary supporters all talk about action. Anyone can take steps. Hillary talks about good management. We have lots of managers, dime a dozen.
    But, few people can make the right choices. Few people can lead with vision.
    Visionaries can hire managers to get things done. But managers seldom hire visionaries.
    If America does not want to spend another four years working themselves into pointless frenzy, they should elect Barack Obama.

    January 22, 2008 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  14. Roger

    Did you guys even notice that when edwards confronted Hillary about having lobbiest and special interest people work in the white house if she is elected, that she didnt give a straight answer?

    Come on America I know you guys are smarter than that.

    Obama 08'

    January 22, 2008 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  15. Nat

    Hillary Clinton, per ususal did an outstanding job in the South Carolina debate. It amazes me that people are so blinded by Obama's weak record and even weaker responses that they feel he is the victim. He started slinging the mud and appeared to drown in it throughout the night. Even John Edwards, who has his nose up his behind looking for another VP ride, was appaled by the 130+ Present Votes and not offering Universal Healthcare. Did anyone catch the comment that "In Illinois we can vote present, it's not like congress". Maybe he should spend a little more time in Congress and learn from the Pro's. Since he is "not a very good Chief Operating Officer". Amazing! I'm a huge Clinton supporter and will follow her to Denver and then the White House...

    January 22, 2008 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  16. Pat

    I have no idea what people expect. If someone makes false statements consistently about you are you going to just sit back and let the accusations fly? Hell no. You call them on the carpet about it. I am so excited that Obama finally decided to confront "Billary" and expose her and her husband's dirty campaign tactics.

    Then you have African American calling Bill the first Black President! Give me a break. What did he ever do for African Americans other than go to their churches, court their votes and open an office in Harlem because the rent is cheaper? They are being used and still don't get it. It's still a sad day for African Americans.

    Hillary touts her 35 years of experience but now speaks of change. Hell, she's been part of the problem for 35 years so why didn't she make changes while she was getting experience? We really do need change now! The only new and fresh democrat is Barak Obama. He's got my vote and anybody else's I can influence.

    January 22, 2008 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  17. BB

    Terrific job, Wolf.

    I have watched a lot of debates; this is go to be one of the best. Participants should be able to challenge each other directly, and they did.

    I saw the true Obama last night, he is a light weight. Edwards deserves to be nominated.

    January 22, 2008 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  18. Frank

    I watched the Decocratic Debate last nite. IN all honety i enjoyed the headed debate. However i was extremely disappointed ath Wolf Blitzer. I dont feel he handled the job fairily. It seemed it ws a debate for Clinton and Obama. Edwards didnt get a fair shake. Whats whats up Wolf. I was shocked at your way of handeling thing. One good thing came ut of this mess. It gave EDWARDS the little time he had, a time to shine and be the most specific of all three candidates. It made me think "is a clinton-Edwards ticket" possible. I liek all three BUT I dont think Obama is experienced to handing all our country's problems. I think Obama coudl be a good future president after he learns more and gets more experience. We cannot vote in a president now wh ois in training. We must elect a president yo can on day ONE go in a do a150%

    January 22, 2008 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  19. chuck

    obama started a war he could not win, people in the media like chris matthewesand good morning joe are in love with him and blame hillary for every thing.hillary stood up for herself,way to go hillary.i will not vote for obama .bill is doing what the media will not do ,ask obama what he stands for.

    January 22, 2008 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  20. Juli An


    I think you did a great job! What I don't like to see at a debate is the moderator intentionally trying to trip up a candidate or being disrespectful of them. Just look at the FOX debates – how rude were they? You spoke clear, showed intelligence and confidence and most importantly respect. It was your job to try to keep them on track. Again – GREAT job!! And that's coming from the vantage point of not liking how most of the media has tried to control the outcome of the election and marginalizing other candidates to the point that they had no chance at all and had to drop out. Stand proud of being a decent and honest man – Congratulations!! This is the type of responsible and professional journalism that America wants!!!!!!

    January 22, 2008 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  21. Bill



    January 22, 2008 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  22. Frances in Honolulu

    I thought the Clintons stood for noble causes such as righting the wrongs against the poor, the disadvantaged, people of color and the like. One would think they would both applaud and lend their support and aid to a person who has managed to rise above certain societal barriers to run for the highest post in our country. Instead they are doing everything they can to discredit and destroy a good, decent soul who is calling for an end to partisanship in governance of our nation. It is clear they have been hypocrites all along. Sigh. Where is the honor any more? Not that I am naive, but surely some news media and political analysts should have asked this question already – why haven't they?

    January 22, 2008 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  23. Joyce

    Like the line in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, "I don't care who gets licked in a fair fight," but it's time for Hillary to be Hillary not Bill's wife. She's been canned and vague throughout the whole process and theatrical when she was falling behind. Now she's pumping up the volume with Bill who has a responsibility as a former President to not use his sure starting to rev up that "machine" as much as Mr. Smith's Jim Taylor ever did. Hillary's a smart woman. She can throw her own punches if she needs to.

    As for Barack Obama, I think he simply needs to respond – in a quiet manner – that he needs to correct misconceptions made by Hillary, Bill or both since there is, at this time, no distinction. I can't tell which Clinton is running at this point either and that wasn't the case pre-Iowa.

    John Edwards has some intriguing ideas, but I wouldn't vote for him for President of the United States. I don't believe he can't translate his ideas into solutions.

    January 22, 2008 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  24. Mobiletwo

    What debate?

    Negative campaign is why the american people lacks interest in politics.

    Maybe this is the reason why both parties do this. Without a third choice, the public cannot really voice their concerns...

    Maybe we can put on the November ballot "None of the Above"....

    January 22, 2008 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  25. Alida, Los Angeles

    Wolf I've watched every debate and this was definitely one of the best.

    Please take questions for the Los Angeles debate as well. If there is no forum to post such questions here is mine:

    The South Carolina debate presented a unique opportunity to carry a theme of addressing issues of racial inequality, yet no candidate mentioned the very similar racial inequalities facing Latinos in the United States. Why did you not seize the opportunity to unite the struggles of African-Americans and Latinos in your dialogue focusing on race? And, what do you uniquely provide as a presidential candidate that will help to mobilize Latinos in November to feel as an included part of the democratic base, particularly if against John McCain, who has a more progressive stance on immigration reform than his party?


    January 22, 2008 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
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