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. Elliot Hammdon

    The sad thing is, none of you are going to care what the truth is very soon in this election, because the Clinton's are going to squeeze and mangle every thing that Obama says and does into such a lurid, distorted rumor, that you will all be too busy lapping up the delicious scandal, to realize that you have all been played for fools by the most famous liar and political dirt hurlers in our History.

    Time for change in Washington.

    Vote for Obama in 2008!!!

    January 22, 2008 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  2. Endrias Abera

    We can't afford not have Wolf Blitzer as a moderator specially the one we had last night. What a great man with inspiring job.
    Go Wolf!

    January 22, 2008 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
  3. aichain

    I posted a comment at 4:34pm, that's almost 6.5 hrs ago, and it is still "awaiting moderation" before CNN will actually post it for others to see. It was critical of the democratic debate and of CNN's general coverage of the election, but I guess they don't want people to call them out on that sort of thing. Or maybe they just want to wait so long to post it that by the time other people are actually able to read it, no one will because this article will be old news by then.

    January 22, 2008 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  4. Felix

    I marvel at the length to which the Clinton's have gone to attack Obama's record, character, and ability to lead change. These are desperate acts by the Clinton campaign are simply a manifestation of their insecurity to the threat that Obama brings to their delusional views. I am a Canadian and have spent countless hours evaluating the messages and reactions of all of the candidates. Hillary & Bill are running scared and an attempted alliance with the Edwards camp is yet another desperate move. I would renounce my Canadian citizenship for the opportunity to vote in and support Mr. Obama – wake up America, he really is your last hope and a much needed breath of fresh air in Washington !!!

    January 22, 2008 11:03 pm at 11:03 pm |
  5. nazirmo

    Obama who refuses to recite the pledge of allegiance
    what's his problem ? Why does he refuse when everyone else follows the
    constitution ?

    January 22, 2008 11:26 pm at 11:26 pm |
  6. Oklahoma_Pol

    Last nights "demo destuction debate " was an example of how far some candiates will go to become president.

    CNN and wolf Blitzer were like witnesses to a drive by.

    The talking heads after were asked repeatedly who landed the most body blows, who ducked the best.

    It wasnt a debate about issues, but about personalities.

    Clinton won the early rounds, the potted plant John Edwards was there and Obama was staggered, but actually posed a serious question which the voters will ultimately decide.

    Should Bill Clinton be as involved in attacking Obama as he is.

    January 22, 2008 11:27 pm at 11:27 pm |
  7. plain jane

    great debate!!!! you did a great job and so did the people asking the questions. I was surprised to hear some of the questions, but they are just what I DID want to be asked. No complanits from me. way to go!!!!!

    January 22, 2008 11:38 pm at 11:38 pm |
  8. Nathan

    I was pleased with the S. C. debate and the fireworks it produced. I do not see anything wrong with the exchanges between the three candidates.
    They are all politicians and they certainly have baggages. It is always best to expeect such baggages to be brought to light.

    January 22, 2008 11:47 pm at 11:47 pm |
  9. Sanjeev

    You made the right call in letting the candidates set the pace and the protocol of the debate. I only wish the media would add more value in the process ... why can't you be the "truth referees" keep the candidates honest in the debates?


    January 22, 2008 11:51 pm at 11:51 pm |
  10. Scott

    Hillary was first to attack as usual....not Obama Hillary has attacked at almost every debate thus far. Obama is just trapped into defending himself constantly....hillary is using dirty as usual politics, and anyone who can't see through her falseness is a fool

    January 22, 2008 11:54 pm at 11:54 pm |
  11. Joy

    Does anyone remember that Kerry asked McCain to be his running mate as Vice President? Maybe this is why McCain sounds like a Democrat.

    January 22, 2008 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  12. Joe Voeglie

    Bill and Hillary's spin on Obama's Reagan comments were pitiful. He made a valid point that Reagan created a movement and that the Republican Party was the party of ideas over the last 10 – 15 years. I listened to his comments and he never said he agreed with their ideas or that they were good. Just that the Republican Party challenged the conventional wisdom which is why they won control of the house and senate.

    And can someone please teach Hillary about body language. In every debate she turns and stares down whoever says anything negative about her or her ideas. Debate 101 please.....stop!

    I'm voting for Obama. He has the much better chance of winning the general election (despite the Edwards and Clinton comment during the debate) as indicated by the 'current polls'.

    Hillary and Bill have turned me off greatly.

    January 22, 2008 11:59 pm at 11:59 pm |
  13. Mrs. America

    It seems like the questions you asked cnn.com readers for and the several thousand responses people contributed didn't count for much. It was same old same old questions but a good debate, anyway, because it did help me see some things clearer.

    I am now convinced about my gut feeling that Obama is not being straight with the people. If he is the Democrat nominee, I would vote for him anyway, but I will know I'm not voting for the perfect man the media likes to make him out to be. I will also know I am not voting for the person most suited for the job.

    He said, "None of us has clean hands," or something to that effect. He is right about that. I now believe, after seeing from the unpleasant but informative combative part of the debate, that his are dirtier than I thought they might be.

    You did a good job, Wolf.

    January 23, 2008 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  14. TAYLOR

    Obama should fight back. He dosen;t have to fight dirty but he needs to answer whatever is thrown at him. Further more he is fighting Hilary and Bill and that is not fair. Wolf, you did a great job. It is hard tryign to get a word in edgewise, but you did your best. Also Obama has stated time and time again that he billed the so call slum landlord for hours that he work in order to strike a deal with a the church. Was he not doing something good by geting whatever property out of the landlord hands? People only seem to look at things one way and they don't listen to the facts.

    January 23, 2008 12:14 am at 12:14 am |
  15. Dee

    I liked the yesterdays debate because I could see now that Obama talks but doesn't really answer the questions. I think Edwards brought up a good poit that both Obama and Clinton use lobbyist support and will have to pay them back with favors. I think Edwards is the honest and sincere. I was disappointed that when the issue of healthcare came up no one said how this heathcare would be paid for and how does it differ from Canada and UK socilized medicine.

    January 23, 2008 12:14 am at 12:14 am |
  16. Paula in FL

    I really didn't see much moderating....few questions, fewer follow-ups, little adherence to time limits. I was disappointed in the way it was handled. There are so many big issues to talk about. Maybe the format was not structured enough, but the debate lacked focus. Those who are undecided missed a good opportunity to see how the candidates will approach the many problems in America and the world.

    January 23, 2008 12:28 am at 12:28 am |
  17. Aujun

    Wolf, great job. However, I keep wondering, why has no one asked Hillary a direct question about her years of legislative experience. She keeps talking about 35 years of experince

    It is a travesty that Hillary Clinton has dishonestly convinced voters that she has more experience than Obama and she will be more ready to lead on day one .

    Technically, this is false: Obama has served more years in elected office than Hillary, specifically, 8 years in the Illinois Senate (which follows nearly identical rules and procedures as the U.S. Senate), and 3 years in the U.S. Senate for a total of 11 years. Clinton, on the other hand has served only one term plus a year in her second term-a total of 7 years in elected office of experince.

    January 23, 2008 12:30 am at 12:30 am |
  18. SC

    I didn't watch the debate but read the transcripts, if what I read was accurate, John Edwards won the debate... even though it's a little too late for him now.

    January 23, 2008 12:30 am at 12:30 am |
  19. Nicole

    I agree
    with Obama, I cannot tell if Hillary or Bill is running for office? If its Hillary, I wish Bill would shut up and let his
    wife speak for herself. If Hillary wins will she run the country, or will it be Bill behind the scene? I

    January 23, 2008 12:31 am at 12:31 am |
  20. Tommy - Baltimore

    I watch both Democrat and Republican debates. Now this (Democratic 1/21) was a "Great debate."

    However, it is so sad the so many analyst put their own negative spin on valid points that were being made. More discourse is what we need. A candidate is responsible for what they say. They must defend past statement and seek to provide clarification when missunderstood.

    It dosen't take a rocket scientist who thw analyst favor.....


    January 23, 2008 12:34 am at 12:34 am |
  21. Susan

    Let's have a little "truth squad" right here, shall we? The first pot-shots taken last night were by Obama. His new habit of whining about running against Bill Clinton as well as Hillary is ludicrous. This is politics, for heaven's sake! If he had such a powerful supporter, he'd certainly use them! As it is, he had no problem trotting Oprah out to energize the black/female vote. Who's playing the race card again?

    Last night he was finally forced to answer substantive questions regarding his record and the issues and came away looking weak, petulant and defensive.

    So far he's had a cake-walk from the press and it's time he's tested by more than starry-eyed gushing from a press that can't seem to ask him an in-depth question if their jobs depended on it (and they certainly should).

    January 23, 2008 12:41 am at 12:41 am |
  22. Dave C - NJ

    Wolf your job is a win-win. You grab the ratings from the people that like you, as well as those who don't like you yet still watch you. Obviously they are tuning in either way, so congrats! 🙂

    January 23, 2008 12:44 am at 12:44 am |
  23. kare

    I have been waiting to see Obama face the heat, thanks for allowing it. I now know that he melts near the flame. Much needed info going into the general.
    Hillary took the flack and came back with well needed information. Maybe the lovefest for Obama is finally over, it is for me

    January 23, 2008 12:50 am at 12:50 am |
  24. allan

    Hi Roy Halford

    I agree with you 120% of your following writing:

    You hear it all the time… the media hate Hillery.

    I have three televisions On all the time in my Living room. I watch all three news networks … back and forth…over and over….

    The media hate Hillery….

    I watched the debate… live…. I watched it againn at midnight… watched it again in parts…. on all three news channels…. still watching it….

    Then… even you Wolf…..
    at about 4:45 pm Central time..
    you parsed sections of the debate to make it look like Mrs. Clinton hit Mr. Obama first with the slum-lord swat…. you know Mr. Obama hit first with the Wal-Mart smack…. I love politics. Everybody gets to play….

    This stuff is important, Mr Blitzer. Your not the only one doing it, but you were there Mr. Blitzer….. Take Mr. Dodds advice… stay out of it!

    January 23, 2008 01:17 am at 1:17 am |
  25. True

    Where they stand on the issues, what a joke, their identical. All of them
    socialist for more government control of business & indivduals.

    January 23, 2008 01:19 am at 1:19 am |
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