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. Jan

    Overall this debate has been the one that allowed the public to not only hear each candidate's policies on some issues, but it allowed us to see the character as well. My biggest criticism is that Senator Clinton was allowed much longer time blocks to answer both direct questions and rebuttals. Senator Obama and Senator Edwards were not given equal time. This seemed as if CNN was deferential to the "Clintons". I think at a minimum, candidates should have all been cut off at two minutes. I think cutting off their mike at that time would send a clear message and allow all candidates to have the same amount of time.
    If anyone would ever go back to Lincoln Douglas debate formats, this would be a great help. None of the questions addressed education, illigal immigration, nuclear proliferation all of which are issues that many would like addressed.

    January 22, 2008 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  2. Harry, Michigan

    Let's see.... Hillary accused Obama of being soft on porno shops being near schools, being inconsistently against the war, and I thought the remark about the Chicago slumlord was really sleazy. All I saw Obama doing was poking holes in her allegations, I don't understand how people thought of this as tit-for-tat. I saw Hillary making outrageous personal attacks that were shown to be untrue.

    January 22, 2008 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  3. Ayanna

    To the debate moderators...what was the relevance in asking Barak Obama if he thought Bill Clinton was the first black president? Talk about a racially loaded non-issue!. That was a huge one.

    January 22, 2008 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  4. Trang, Fremont CA

    I thought Wolf did a good job in letting the candidates speak and defend themselves when needed.

    January 22, 2008 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  5. An Obama-addict

    good job Wolf, very good one. Thanks.

    January 22, 2008 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  6. DD

    Good job Wolf,It was Obama who came there to air his grips and off to the races.Senator Clinton as always was steady,professional had in depth answers and solutions to health care,economy,the war situation which is tricky.
    There is only one strong leader after last night and she will make a great First Woman President .
    I thank you for allowing them time to be seen by the American public.Especially what all words and no action Obama really is. A real empty suit.
    Edwards says the same thing over and over without explaining any dimension.This is not for a one note Johnny type of postion you need to say more and do more than the poverty issue.Which is very important to this country but he is not getting the votes because he tells his life story over and over.It's a good story but being President is so much more (to Limited)
    Great job to you and staff.

    January 22, 2008 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  7. Citizen

    Last night debate helped me decide to vote for Hillary Clinton.

    Obama...I don't know about him...I heard his comments about Republicans and their ideas...He probably was living in Indonesia when things were a lot better in 1992 to 2000 – is why he does not remember or he has short memory or he is a republican or he just would say anything to get votes.

    Bottom line – I am not for him. Thank god I could watch this debate.

    January 22, 2008 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  8. Ari


    As a suggestion for the next debate: Perhaps you give each candidate 5 minutes for 'opening remarks'... then they can use that as they want to, speak about whatever they think is important... then the debate will go more smoothly since they will have had a chance to air whatever they thought was more important.

    that way Americans will know what is most important for each candidate– America or winning the nomination...

    January 22, 2008 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  9. Gene - Houston

    Too bad people thought Obama was the one that started the arguments... It was the Clinton Machine, the Hillary Express, that had been taking punch shots @ Obama for weeks & months. In every other debate, Hillary would always start her comments with a reference to Obama, trying to showing her superiority, as if she's God's gift to Americas Political Problems. It's about time Obama started fighting back. It proves he has feelings, respect for himself, and a "BackBone"....
    The Hillary Express has made this personal from "DAY ONE"

    January 22, 2008 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  10. Chad

    I came away from this debate as I have all of the others. John Edwards is the only Democratic candidate talking about solutions to the problems that face this country. It is a shame that the media continues to glorify Hillary and Obama's shameful political antics.

    January 22, 2008 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  11. JohnS

    Yes, take no money from the cooperations Edwards!!! But, can Edwards refund most of the funds he took from the cases he won on the back of "poor people?" We are talking here about millions and millions of dollars!!!

    I guess, the strong advocate here is for "lawyers" who are good at fighting to line up their pockets with the spoils of the poor. It often reminds me of presidents who send other people's kids to war but send their kids to institutions of higher education or "charity work" only to claim that they are …..

    Do not get me wrong, I have always been a supporter of Edwards. He should wait until Hillary loses to the Republicans and he can then sue the Republicans to help the dumb democrats who put Hillary out there as a nominee– got the picture?

    January 22, 2008 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  12. Jules

    Yesterday was Obama's best debate. He was strong and presidential! CLEAR on all of his positions!

    January 22, 2008 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  13. Marie

    Once again, following the debate last night, the media has focused on the two candidates you have chosen to be newsworthy (flash trash), rather than the one candidate who deserves to be heard. You moan and groan about the state of our economy yet fail to listen to the plans of John Edwards, the very best person to lead our country out of the wilderness. May I suggest you take the time to go to john edwards.com website and read his 80 PAGE document regarding how he would turn this country around for ALL people. Sensible, well thought out ideas to make America what we all want it to be in the future.

    You are doing the voters of this country a disservice with this continued attitude; seems like you all talk to hear your teeth rattle, without substance or truthfulness. John Edwards has been warning us for years of the deteriorating state of our nation and has been casually dismissed by the media pundits. The other candidates haven't been talking about it but John Edwards has and you have blocked his voice from the public view as much as possible. People are catching on to your tactics and don't like it one bit!! You have no right to decide who we vote for; it doesn't necessarily have to be the Best Election MONEY CAN BUY!

    My husband (a Korean War Veteran and lifelong Republican) and I are both supporting John Edwards and will caucus for him here in MN on February 5. Friends and family throughout the US are also planning to vote Edwards, several in CA have already cast absentee ballots and their votes deserve to be counted too.

    January 22, 2008 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  14. Gaby


    Obama won hands down and can make that change. Hillary's (Bill) tactics or tears do not move me.

    January 22, 2008 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  15. shannon

    I think it would be a good idea to list the amount of time used by each candidates. Mr. Obamas domination of time left to many moments unsaid by the others. Unfair to those on the panel, and very unfair for us who are looking for as much from each to help make up our minds.

    January 22, 2008 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  16. DLSparks

    Even if Hillary wins the Democratic nomination, she can't unify this country. She is part of the partisan politic that has gone back and forth for years. Please, it's time for a change.

    January 22, 2008 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  17. Graham F

    And the sad part Lorie is those people that are still confused could be instrumental in picking the next President...on the basis of a few debates and no research of their own.

    January 22, 2008 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  18. Caliman

    Wolf, you were at your best last night. You don't have to defend yourself from these idiots. Just because their candidate came out a WIMP and appeared unprepared, they would vent their ire on you.

    Hillary, you have my vote!

    January 22, 2008 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  19. ray in vegas

    I thought Sen. Clinton was allowed more time to speak and level charges at Sen. Obama, some of which he never got a chance to defend himself on. Then you spin the whole thing like it's Clinton and Obama taking cheap shots at each other. At least Sen. Obama always spoke the truth.

    Sen. Obama wasn't a senator at the time the Iraq war started, but he strongly advised against invading Iraq. He voted to fund the war later, because he believes we should support the troops regardless of who's dumb decision it was to go to war in the first place . . . certainly not his! He believes that our young men and women in combat, true heroes, should have what they need to survive and not get killed. Clinton and her husband (and certainly many in the media) spin this as "Sen. Obama flip flops on the war, he's a phony".

    Hillary Clinton voted to go to war, and her husband vocally supported it. Now that the war has been such a disaster, Pres. Clinton claims he was against it from the start and Sen. Clinton claims she believed George Bush's obvious lies.

    January 22, 2008 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  20. Kimberly Crichton

    The question, Was Bill Clinton the first black president? is so stupid and sad that I wish you would be disqualified from future debates. War and peace on Martin Luther King day or why minorities got four times as many predatory mortgages as whites, not Bill. And if you were going to ask something about Bill, ask - What were you doing when he signed the pardons?

    January 22, 2008 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  21. David in PA


    That was an excellent debate, and I was happy to see the three candidates hammer home many of their points. However, I am curious why the debates over the last few months have consistently eliminated Dennis Kucinich from speaking. Candidates can hardly have their voices heard and be visible, if the press keeps locking them out. He might have done better in Nevada, for example, if MSNBC had let him voice his views. He might have performed better in New Hampshire and Iowa.

    I suspect his stand on issues such as impeaching Vice President Cheney, the Iraq war, and gay marriage had a lot to do with him not being put in the debates. How do you respond, Wolf? If Representative Kucinich had been given a larger forum and equal time, could he have reached more voters?

    January 22, 2008 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  22. Cath

    The media hate the Clintons, it's a fact. And that was very evident leading to the New Hampshire primary where everyone was so eager to report the fall of the Clintons even before the people casted their votes. It's very evident that the media are fueling the fire between the candidates, which is very unfortunate as it is not helping the people make their decision. Let's get back to discussing the ECONOMY and how these candidates can solve our problems ahead.

    January 22, 2008 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  23. Bimmer


    We also disagree with your implying that Hilary started it.

    Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Obama started it by making cryptic referecne to Hillar's Wal-mart job.

    January 22, 2008 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  24. Diane, Northport, NY

    Personal back and forth is a political tradition and can reveak the character of the candidates in unexpected ways. What struck me last night is the way Obama turned his back on HIllary Clinton and intentionally snubbed her in front of the entire world. Is this type of self-centered, bad-sport behavior what we want in a leader? If Obama doesn't get his way with a world leader will he behave badly? Even little league teams shake hands after a battle. Clearly, Obama is not ready for a national role. For someone who talks up diplomacy, he obviously knows little about what that word means.

    January 22, 2008 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  25. Paul Tan

    I'm from Singapore but have somehow been drawn into the excitement of your elections. I watched parts of the debate over the internet and I must say that it was really very exciting and interesting. Out of the three Democratic candidates, I would say that definitely Hillary Clinton was the winner in the debate as she was clearly the most experienced, the most knowledgeable and the most convincing in her arguments. Barack Obama looked too young and punctuated a lot of his responses with "err's" and "umm's" which seem to betray either a lack of confidence or lack of experience in whatever he was talking about. As for John Edwards, he is likeable but somehow lacks the charisma and personality to be the next US President.

    So If I were from South Carolina, my vote would definitely be for Hillary Clinton. And I think a Clinton-Obama team will definitely be triumphant in November 2008 ! I will look forward to that.

    January 22, 2008 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
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