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. AC

    I think Clinton and Edwards performed very well. Obama is incredibly charismatic and can give an absolutely amazing speech, but debates just aren't a flattering venue for him. Hillary is almost the opposite. Obama went into the debate aggressively, hoping to discredit the Clintons and put Hillary on the defensive. I think this backfired on some occasions and it was pretty clear that he spent most of the debate playing defense.

    Hillary's goal was to use the issues to keep Obama on the defensive, take him away from his message of change, hope, and inspiration, and force him into mud-slinging and throwing out accusations. I think she accomplished this (though she does sometimes come off as angry). I don't know if this debate will change any outcomes in South Carolina or lure any of the state's black vote back into the Clinton camp, but I think it will benefit her on Super Tuesday since it was the most-watched Primary debate in cable news history.

    And I actually didn't mind the fighting. I think it's important that the candidates call eachother out, challenge records, and fight amongst themselves during the primary. It's a good way of testing who can and cannot survive a general election, because we all know that the Republican candidate and the RNC aren't going to shy away from doing all of that and more. It might be divisive, but I think it's important that the candidates are vetted before they get the nomination.

    None of them performed perfectly, but I'd give Edwards an A, Clinton an A-, and Obama a B.

    January 22, 2008 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  2. Susan Carter

    CNN- all the controversies in this campain have been a small flames but CNN is fanning them into a bonfire. You are ,either by omission or commission, changing the political agenda. Your reports are more biased than any candidate ever thought of being. There isn't a doubt in anyone's mind who CNN is supporting and who CNN is against. Shame on you. I honestly think that you are not only doing it to have something to talk now about now but you are afraid if you do not help Obama into the Whitehouse, the other candidates won't give you enough to criticize. You would have a field day with Obama if he is elected so you are doing what you can to discredit and mock the only viable opponent. Again, shame on you. There are enough problems in the world without CNN creating them where they do not exist. Fortunately, for the U.S., I think most people are smart enough to see through your "yellow journalism".

    January 22, 2008 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  3. irma

    Sorry kids, but here is a hit at Obama. What was with the "Talk to the hand” stance he kept doing with Hillary? He kept putting his hand out and up where her face was in looking at him as they debated. Check it out. I hope CNN replays the Debate. Man, this is fun! I feel like all the comments are helping them in some weird way.

    January 22, 2008 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  4. BT

    Clinton herself spoke glowingly of Reagan in Tom Brokaw's new book, "Boom!," in which she is quoted as saying, "When he had those big tax cuts and they went too far, he oversaw the largest tax increase. He could call the Soviet Union the Evil Empire and then negotiate arms-control agreements. He played the balance and the music beautifully."

    If she wins the Democratic nomination, Republicans may want to produce an ad from this exchange on Iraq:

    Question: ... Are you looking to end this war or win it?

    CLINTON: I'm looking to bring our troops home ... .

    January 22, 2008 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  5. Don Far

    Wolf you did a good job of this debate for a free for all but I felt you need to be a lot stronger with the candidates and don't just keep grunting, but dam well cut them off when you need to!

    January 22, 2008 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  6. joy

    Wolf, you did a good job. You are far better than Dobbs or Cafferty, any time, any day.
    I think HIllary was presidential. She talked sense about the economy. Obama showed inexperience and was not clear on his answers. Of course he praised Reagan in that interview.. He should have apologized to true blue democrats who took it that way. Didn't he know how Black Americans suffered under the Reagan era?
    P.S. Edwards would be a great VP for Hill.

    January 22, 2008 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  7. Candy

    The problem is that there is only 1 Clinton in this race, but there is always 2 attacking. Hilary needs to stand up and fight her own battle. Also Clinton made this a color issue not Obama. Regardless of what they say no one should look at this race in color. The ones who do have issues themselves. We the people need a much greater change today and need to really think about who is fit for the job.

    January 22, 2008 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  8. Donald

    Wolf, I thought you and your team did a fine job. In sports, fans often wish that the referees would step back and let the teams play. I felt that that's what you did in this debate, and it made for a better event. The candidates themselves have to judge how far they can push it, and they did - they actually policed themselves. Most of all, by getting out the way, I was able to learn more about the candidates' policy positions, self-composure and style, and that will help me as I decide whom to support.
    Thanks again.

    January 22, 2008 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  9. neal

    I think John Edwards should have been the moderator. I like how he clarified the issues and the similarities and differences between the candidates.

    January 22, 2008 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  10. Roy

    " Well lets do step back and " take a reality check". Hilliary Clinton's claim to fame is that she is the only one that can take on the Republicans on "DAY ONE" and do the difficult things etc. Well I for one have a problem with that . namely, She is not just disliked in the Replubican Party but among her own party people who she would be getting all these things done. Unless this good ole country is going to turn into a dictatorship when she is voted into office, I see that she would have more problems than any other candidate in the race. So I would like to ask her how does she feel she is going to bully her way into a position of the " GREAT Saving Face " of us all? If they are talking change from what we now have going on within our leaders , seems to me that ( and I am sure many others) that Hilliary Clinton is already putting on the gloves to fight with the legislators she would have to work with. This isnt change in my way of thinking, it would be the same ole things only with a different person in the White House.. " GIVE ME A BREAK" Roy , Mo

    January 22, 2008 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  11. RS

    Dear "debate watcher"

    In case you missed it, Obama's comment about not being able to keep straight whether Hillary or her husband said something was a moment of SARCASM. It wasn't that he couldn't actually keep track of what Hillary said; Obama was pointing out that Bill is continually talking for her and for her campaign. Not surprisingly, the majority of what Bill Clinton says on Hillary's behalf seems to be done so in an effort to defame Obama. THAT, my friend, is the "IMPORTANT POINT" here. All along, Hillary's campaign has been slanderous toward Obama because she knows he is her biggest competition. In a campaign where a candidate's personality seems to be taking the forefront among the issues, I'm surprised to see that someone with your keen perception has fallen for Hillary.

    January 22, 2008 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  12. Mari Fernandez, Salt Lake City, UT

    The debate was very informative, Hillary's seething face said it all. Her attacks on Obama are getting uglier. What the Clintons and some of the other Democrats DON'T GET, is that WE WANT CHANGE. Get it?!

    Sen. Obama needs to rise above the fray and not allow himself to be dragged into the mud.

    I do agree that the media has been fanning the fire between Obama and Clinton. Stick to the issues, we are all sick and tired of negative, brutal and dishonest campaigns!

    Bill & Hillary's attacks have and will continue to backfire.

    January 22, 2008 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  13. Gigi

    Eureka!!!! There are people actually hearing John Edwards and approving of the message he is TRYING to get across to the nation. He did not get enough time during this debate, but then I did not expect it. Now, if you, Lou, Larry and the other journalists at CNN would give him as much FREE air time as you give the two bickering brats, he will start getting the votes that is being cyphened off to those two. Those that are trying to get him to throw in the towel are just trying to clear the field for either Hillary or Barack. I will tell them, "Forget it!" He is in it for the long haul and will be there when the convention convenes in Denver.

    Go Johnny Go!!!!!!

    January 22, 2008 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  14. Carl W. Moore

    Wolf, you did a great job, thanks. Now as for the who dunnit first. We all know who got scared and started this fued becaused the were too comfortable. We all know that (in the Legal Arena) if you don't respond, then it's accepted as true. Hence the "Knife Fight". Too bad she was in a phone booth. Any way let's pray that she ... and Bill go home.

    January 22, 2008 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  15. Ben

    Wolf, I liked how you handled things last night. It showed some of the true character of the two front-runners, and really solidified my support for the former senator John Edwards. While I wouldn't neccesarily mind the other two as the Democratic nominee, I hope a lot of people who watched the debates were turned off by their petty squabbling and gave Edwards a chance.

    January 22, 2008 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  16. Karen

    Anyone who has kept up with this campaign, knows that Billary Clinton has been a real problem with lies and half truths. You may be confused, if you only tuned into the debate. Yes, Obama threw the first jab, of the debate. I think after a month of trying to take the high road, and the Clintons just being awful, he deserved a shot. There are so many people who have been publicly calling for Bill to stop the mud slinging and 1/2 truths. Now everyone is jumping on Obama, for trying to defend himself. Billary is dirty politics at its worst. I don't know which Clinton Obama is running against.

    January 22, 2008 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  17. Nicholas Duckworth

    Obama was responding from attacks from both Clinton's and there surrogates, make no mistake when you Have Hillary playing nice and Bill attacking and vice a versa there is no mistake on message, they are all well placed and planned, this dirty politics is what we can expect and it's time for change.

    I stand with Obama without doubt, he can bring together America and lead us into a new day.

    January 22, 2008 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  18. steve

    After calling the upcoming debate a War you wnat Moderation?

    January 22, 2008 08:16 pm at 8:16 pm |
  19. shaun

    wolf, you should never be allowed to moderate another debate...you were absolutely horrible...You had no control....

    stick to your crummy show and stay out of the way

    January 22, 2008 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  20. D Williams

    I have to say from my perspective....Hillary started to attack and Obama replied.
    Now if Obama didn't reply there would of been a problem....If he does reply there's a problem.

    The bottom line is whoever you are going to vote for. You are going to vote for.
    If you put Hilary in the white house. She wont stay in there long.

    January 22, 2008 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  21. Serena

    Let me tell you I am not suprised on Bill and Hilary's tactics played against Obama. They are dirty fighters that are trying to bring Obama down. But let me tell you the truth will preveils all evil.

    January 22, 2008 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  22. Linda, iowa

    Last night debate reminded me of my students. I'm a teacher and it is common for a student to bother another student, mock them, poke at them, verbally try to engage them. What I notice is that if this is done long enough and the receiver of this tries to ignore for awhile then ask them to stop, then joke about it but the antagonizing continues, there is a point where the receiver draws a line in the sand and basically says 'stop messin" with me. Suddenly the receiver becomes the bad guy and 'started it'. The Clintons started this rhetoric a long time ago...they pushed and pushed, made comment after comment that were clearly antagonistic...Obama ignored, responded calmly, sometimes found humor, but in general responded in a respectful manner until the charges escalated and tinged with misrepresentation. When Obama drew a line in the sand and used an opportunity at the debate (which had a HIGH viewership) to respond vocally, firmly and in a no- nonsense manner, Senator Clinton started crying 'unfair'. She sounded like a first grader last night. It appears she likes to push and bully, but doesn't like being pushed back...infact has a tattle tale demeanor about her. Now I understnad why many find her unpresidential. I don't like first grade behavior in adults. It isn't cute and it doesn't smack of dynamic leadership. We need a DYNAMIC leader.

    January 22, 2008 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  23. Natty

    wolf, you did a good job.

    but it was frustrating to watch obama and clinton fight that way. i think it was all started by obama by mentioning the name of bill clinton which i thought was unnecessary while debtaing key issues. .
    i get a feeling he is desperate. but other thing we can make out i twill be difficult for these two to get together and work again. becoz it is becoming too much.

    January 22, 2008 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  24. Florence

    Oh please... let the people debate – nobody is desperate! Just stating facts and defending the all out media war and attacks on his character, religion, race, beliefs...shall I continue?

    January 22, 2008 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  25. SG

    Given the post debate focus on the debate, Wolf did OK. The moderator moderates, not participate, as MSNBC dabates end up being. Charles Gibson(ABC) and Wolf have brought out aspects of the candidates policy positions and personalities as no other. And that is what voters need to welcome, and use in eventually making their decisions.

    January 22, 2008 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20