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. Ed,Ellenville,New York

    The debate was well handled. I thought the freedom was well worth any criticism. I was starting to feel like CNN was too biased towards Obama. Thanks for letting everyone know just how bad he is.

    January 22, 2008 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  2. michael, ny

    Wlof, I think you did a great job on this. In the first few debates, you came accross as a Hillary supporter. In the last debate, you appeared as a JOURNALIST, just doing your job. I think what you did on Monday was great and this should be used as a benchmark for future debates on a journalistic stand point.

    January 22, 2008 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  3. Robert

    The only problem that I had was that Wolf did not follow-up on what the candidates were saying or ask them to clarify what they meant. There were a number of statements by Obama on credit card interest rates, single payer health care, and Rezko for example.

    January 22, 2008 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  4. George Heidemark

    I felt that this was the most issue centered debate so far. Yes ,there was bombast, but there was real substance on Iraq,the economy and health care. Significant differances in the 3 candidates became obvious last night. Wolf and the others did a great job.

    January 22, 2008 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  5. sean

    Wolf, you are my least favorite moderator...of all time. You and CNN are descending into the pathetic realm of sensationalism and pointed sound-byte questions that lower the level of discourse and discredit the presidential election process. I know CNN is eager to compete with Fox (your graphics have become even more seizure enducing than theirs – congrats!), but your desperate quest for ratings, drama, and headlines has finally caused this viewer to decide to tune out.

    January 22, 2008 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  6. Mireille, Charlotte

    I'd give that round to Edwards

    January 22, 2008 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  7. Brandon

    President George Bush...President Bill Clinton......President George Bush's son George Bush becomes President George Bush........ and now we want President Bill Clinton's wife to become President...... yeah thats sounds like the America I want. Hey, Laura you can be next.....

    January 22, 2008 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  8. Peace

    Wolf did a great job. Sometimes when there is two people needling each other, it is wise to let them release their anger and from there they become good friends.

    January 22, 2008 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  9. Foxy Lady

    Hillary Clinton is a total joke.

    Leave it up to the democrats to put her in as a nominee.

    Experience? Give me a break!

    We are waiting for her fat ass. We are going to slap her down and wipe that smirk off of her husband's cheating face!

    January 22, 2008 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  10. Russ C, Seattle, Wa

    Clinton and Obama both made me disgusted. The only one who showed any maturity was Edwards. Too bad he is not one of the media rock stars. He got short changed as usual regardless of what Jack may think.

    January 22, 2008 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  11. Apollo

    Wolf–why didn't you call them on the fact that none of them has ever done ANYTHING in the real world? Edwards has taken money from people, Obama organized campaign rallies and HIllary–we all know what she didn't do.

    We need someone who understands the economy.

    Obama's plan to freeze interest rates would eliminate banks from lending. It would not happen–banks would invest their money elsewhere.

    Socialism didn't work–look at France (I lived/worked there for many years) it sucks. 23% sales tax, 50+% income tax, tariffs...on and on, and no economic growth–French leave the country to find new lives in America.

    We need Mitt Romney–someone who has taken financial disasters and turned them into successes time and time again.

    Mitt understands how government intervention damages our economic prosperity, why companies leave the US and what can be done to make the USA competitive so that companies and jobs stay here.

    Experience? Mitt Romney

    January 22, 2008 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  12. Mike

    I think Clinton came looking for a fight. And I think Edwards was so desperate that he chose to attack Obama and do a double-team with Clinton. I do think there should have been some rules – if there were any, they weren't enforced. It was like a free-for-all and they all came off as quite childish. I would also like to see a facts check report published after this debate, and all the debates – so we know who made valid points, and who is twisting words and spreading lies. I know some things that were already disproven were brought up several times during the debate.

    A debate is not supposed to be a test of who can yell the loudest or make the most insulting comment at their opponent. It is supposed to provide information on the candidates and where they stand. There was not much information out of this debate – more like misinformation, tantrums, finger pointing, and threats to tell mommy.

    January 22, 2008 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  13. Sal Phoenix, AZ

    Obama sounded and looked like he was making it up as he went along..Too much stammering..Jack, ny,ny, you're right, Obama started in on Sen. Clinton with the remark of her being on the board of Wal-Mart...She had to bring him back down to size..Thank you, Wolf, I learned alot last night.

    January 22, 2008 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  14. Adam

    Fortunately edwards did a wonderful job of hitting the issues and contrasting everyones positions. He controlled the debate far more than the moderator and where we discussed policy details last night it was largely his doing. Not only did he hit his positions he contrasted with the other two forcing them to talk issues and defend positions. He showed there are differences in platform between them. Something alrgely ignored in media coverage.

    I can't recall a nastier debate people were throwing roundhouses for the head. That is obama and clinton were.

    January 22, 2008 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  15. Jayson

    And here I thought that the Democrat contenders were all supposed to be friends now. Their friendship lasted about as long as the promise of a return to civility and trust in government did when the Democrats took back both sides of Congress.

    January 22, 2008 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  16. Will in Seattle

    I thought it made Sen Edwards look a lot better, with Sen Obama second, and Sen Clinton way too prickly.

    That said, why are the other candidates still in the race not allowed on stage? Keeping Kucinich out is as silly as not talking about Ron Paul while you in the MSM tout both Guiliani and Thompson who both get fewer votes.

    Wake up and stop trying to choose for us. We want to choose – not have the media do it for us.

    January 22, 2008 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  17. Brian


    Great job. You actually allowed us to see the candidates for who they are. Clinton came across knowledgeable about the issues, tough on approach, and calm on the attack.

    Obama came across of the typical washington politician promising everything under the sun. Obama needs to ask himself, who IS really against healthcare? against jobs? against education? This guy is an empty suit. No substance whatsoever. He should go back to being a state rep or city councilor or whatever the heck he was. Where he can fool people with his largesse.

    January 22, 2008 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  18. Chad

    I thought the debate was one of the best I have ever seen. It was time to anrrow the field and let the front runners have it out. People are still in limbo on Clinton and Obama, and I think they may even be weighing Edwards. It was time that some of the dirty laundry got cleaned, and it was time for them all to stand face to face and talk this out.

    Wolf, EXCELLENT job! You did exactly what you should have done in the process of the candidates hashing it out!

    January 22, 2008 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  19. stan pitts pa

    wolf – you did a good job last night, making sure the candidates had enough time to refute false claims and lies by the other candidates, keep up the fair and good work!

    January 22, 2008 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  20. Patricia Hall

    It was more of a heated "conversation," but much more to the point and informative. I enjoyed it very much! Anything that gets them really talking about issues and what's really on their minds works, as far as I'm concerned!

    Thanks for all your efforts.

    January 22, 2008 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  21. Elizabeth Washington DC

    I agree with Russ in WA. I was beginning to like Obama, but last night felt Edwards was the hands down winner. He at least tried to stick to policy. I have never liked Hillary, but Obama's antics made me as mad as her's did last night.

    So, maybe Edwards 08?

    And Wolf, you were fine. Many of us got a pretty clear picture of these candidates last night.

    January 22, 2008 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  22. Matt

    I found last night's debate lively, illuminating and encouraging. No matter which of the three wins - and I hope it is one of these three - I believe we will have a first-rate president. All are bright, committed to their ideals, hard-working and articulate. The discussion was not ranorous, in my view, just rowdy - something to expect in a high-stakes, highly emotional situation. None of them can let a comment go by that might come back to haunt them if left unanswered or unchallenged. The brass ring is the Oval Office, and this crowd jostling to get on the Merry-Go-Round knows you have to use elbows to get to the horses that move up and down.

    I thought Wolf showed the right balance between letting things run and keeping them moving.

    January 22, 2008 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  23. Aileen Bailey

    It was so obvious that O'Bama was ready to fight but it was Bill Clinton who had handed him the material for his challenge...This made it appear that Barak was being tortured by the Clinton. It created a double whammy for Hillary who had to defend not only herself but to defend her husbands remarks. I have had tremendous respect for O'Bama but that respect evaporated with the debate. He totally minulipated and monopolized the debate with an attitude that spoke louder than words. The attitude? "I have never been intensely involved in Civil Rights but I have somehow EARNED the right to be President." Thus far, we do not know what he has actually done to EARN that right.

    January 22, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  24. Maggi

    Thank you Wolf Blitzer for keeping as much civility as your were able considering the candidates, two in particular, appeared bent on keeping the atmosphere charged with their vitrolic banter.

    As a declined-to-state voter, and more importantly as a citizen of the USA, I am concerned about the lack of productivity by our elected officials, in particular all of the federal and my states legislatures.

    I am looking for a candidate (wouldn't it be nice to have several) who are move concerned about constructive discussion of critical issues affecting our nation and our place in the world verses their petty sand box bickering and "i am better than you are!" The "one up manship" dialogue and in particular the period when Senators Clinton and Obama kept talking over each other to get their jab in, was embarassing! And certainly not presidential...even kids in sand boxes are usually more civil.

    Also as a woman, a professional and a member of the original class of baby boomers, I am sorry to see Senator Clinton loose her decorum when going one on one when trying to get her point across. I wonder how she would handle negotiations with another world leader who just might not like her ideas?

    Thank you for all of the thoughtful coverage of all the many topics you address on the Situation Room and your Sunday show.

    January 22, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  25. Rick

    Mr. Blitzer,

    Your work last evening was exceptional. You let them speak and your follow-ups were spot on. It was good to see them so engaged ...as we knew they would be after the Nevada / Bill / Churches weekend.

    Please ask more questions of the candidates if you feel they have either dodged the question or haven't answered to your satisfaction. We are watching and listening. I enjoyed your sense of humor and did I see you smile?

    Thanks CNN for helping us all understand the differences between these brave and courageous Americans as they realize their ambitions. What a great nation we have!

    Port Orange, Fl.

    January 22, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
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