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. Chris Willowbrook, IL


    Most entertaining debate I've seen in a while. Great job. Oh and anyone saying that Obama isn't truthful needs to go back and look and the Clinton record on telling the truth. To quote the man "It's a fairy tale, give me a break"

    January 22, 2008 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  2. JohnS

    Comments on this blog suggest that Hillary actually accomplished her GOAL:
    Make Obama look and sound LIKE me (Hillary) so that everyone will turn out to HATE him just as they hate me (Hillary).

    Next day, go out there are tell the world that Obama is equally as diversive.

    Make Edwards look good in the debate, and then join forces with him AGAINST Obama after the debate. Does anyone recall the brief meeting between Clinton and Edwards after the debate?

    Well, the Clintons have fooled you again, idiots!!! and you have indeed fallen for it!!!
    Good luck because she cannot fool Independents and moderate Republicans, only dumb democrats!

    January 22, 2008 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  3. glenda

    I enjoyed the debate. However, I do not understand why the democratic candidates are never asked about illegal immigration. This is where you let us down, by not asking about all issues important to us.

    January 22, 2008 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  4. Tyler

    Obama said he was against the typical Washington politicians...he sure acted like a typical Washington politician last night.

    January 22, 2008 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  5. Mike

    Wolf, I have a simple request.
    The next time you have a debate, don't allow the candidates to talk about the other Democratic candidates. A simple rule. If they start, their mics are cut off.
    Then ask them each about their plans for the economy, health care, Iraq, etc.
    No comparisons to another Democrat's plans – just theirs.
    You or Anderson are more than welcome to question perceived shortcomings in all of their plans – but they will not be allowed to criticize each other.
    That would lead to an educating conversation on the differences between the candidates.
    But that won't happen will it, Wolf?
    Because that's boring. When I saw an ad for one of the earlier Democratic debates you actually had a boxing ring bell go off. You guys want them to fight and create drama. How long did you guys milk the "racial spat" after Obama and Hillary had already agreed to a truce over MLK?

    January 22, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  6. pat

    I have watched several of the democratic debates and found this one to be informative, enlightening, and even entertaining. The format allowed for both a traditional and relaxed atmosphere. Blitzer did a good job of moderating without being a distraction.

    January 22, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  7. Dalf

    I was a big supporter of Senator Clinton before the debate. However, after watching the entire debate last time I must say that I have changed. I am now a BIGGER and more of a solid supporter of the Senator from New York. She handled her own after Obama started the criticism. I agree with Hillary, it is clear that Obama was rehearsed and scripted because he said he didn't agree with Reagan and so on and Hillary corrected him by saying she did not say Reagan...hahah. Folks, look at that part of the debate again.

    If Obama doesn't have his rehearsed speeches and scripted then he is without his luster and coherence. Hillary has proven to have substance and strength! She is what the country needs. Senator Clinton is experienced and can challenge the republicans and win!

    I am an African-American male in my 20's and I support Sen.Clinton! Not every Black will vote for Obama!

    New Jersey for Hillary

    January 22, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  8. Chuck


    I think you did a great job. There several times you tried to interject and return them to the question at hand. However they were not listening to you. As for Obama, yaaaaahooo.. he needed to say his peace. Hillary needs to run her campaign.. Bill needs to conduct himself as a spouse of a CEO, better yet like a future first lady... so funny. Sorry I cant see that happening.... Does Hillary really trust him to keep the cigar holders use as they were intended and that he will keep his pants on while she is attempting to lead this country on her experience of being a first lady. I see a movie in the making and it wont be pretty.

    But honestly Wolf, you and LOU Dobbs seriously need to consider running as a team. You two would be fantastic when compared to the rest of the pack. Step out and be leaders if you will please.

    January 22, 2008 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  9. MaryJo Bruce Surprise, Ariz

    No one really respects anyone who does the zinger thing, Both Obama and Clinton have their faults. Obama has more fluff to offer. not sure what he stands for in all the issues. Both of them never mention much about terrorism and what they are actually going to do with stopping up our borders. Secure borders make for a more securer nation. As all of us know, politicians say one thing and do another when they are running for the highest office in the land. Just to get the votes. They say what they thing we need to hear. Then when they get in, its whos giving the most money and filling up various pockets. There is no perfect president anywhere. The Republicians are turning into liberals. Spend, spend, spend.

    January 22, 2008 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  10. Debbie

    All I can say Wolf...is thank you!!!

    I think you did us a good service by letting them good head to head. Now we can see their underbellies!!!

    January 22, 2008 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  11. Christine, Burke, VA

    The so-called "debate" convinced me more than ever that I won't participate in this election at all.

    January 22, 2008 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  12. SC for Hillary

    Come on folks, let's face the facts, OBAMA THREW THE FIRST PUNCH, DID YOU EXPECT HILLARY TO FALL FROM THAT PUNCH? instead she showed everybody what she had, and Obama couldn't take it, the old saying is If you play with fire, you will get burned. Obama got burned. Obama came out on stage looking like a whipped Chipmunk who is in over his head. HILLARY 2008, ALL THE WAY TO THE WHITE HOUSE. NO ONE KNEW WHO OBAMA WAS UNTIL 2007, WHAT HAS HE DONE TO HELP THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. GO BACK TO THE SENATE AND GET SOME EXPERIENCE. TRY AGAIN IN 2020.

    January 22, 2008 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  13. Pat C.

    Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines debate as:
    (n) a contention by words or arguments: a: a formal discussion of a motion before a deliberative body according to the rules of parliamentary procedure; b: a regulated disussion of a proposition between two matched sides.

    What transpired last evening fits neither of these definitions.

    As an independent voter, I tuned in last evening to find out where each of the three Democratic contenders stood on specific issues. Unfortunately, most of what I heard was childish bickering.

    Substance, specifics, respectful give and take on issues....that's what most Americans want. The candidates, CNN and Wolf Blitzer did not deliver. It was a waste of my time.

    January 22, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  14. Thomas, NV

    Leave it to the first poster to throw out the "who started it garbage"... It shows just how petty the Clinton followers really are.

    January 22, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  15. Jerome

    Wolf did a great job! Who can control high school kids ready to fight?
    Drop Edwards next time. There isn't a reasonable man or woman who believes he can win now. Therefore he should be dropped.
    My comments about the debate. Disclosure: I am clinton supporter. Barack is a smart, decent guy, who is running a decent campaign. Hillary is a better politician, more ready to take the heat from the republicans. I am having some doubts about that being effective in the 21st century. But if politics look like what they did in the 90s, she will be more effective.

    January 22, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  16. Dee

    You did a great job last night, Wolf, along with Suzanne and Joe Johns. I really didn't like all the bickering but I thought there was a more substantial discussion of some issues, particularly healthcare, than ever before. It certainly wasn't boring as past debates have been. You're a great moderator.

    January 22, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  17. Mary

    While I think the debate was enlightening, it was not because of the issues (though I will say the healthcare discussion was much needed to alleviate confusion). No, what was most enlightening was the conduct of the candidates, which I think Wolf allowed to shine through independent of prodding from reporters. It's a difficult job to moderate a debate such as this, and I think overall it was helpful.

    However, it is NOT difficult to ask intelligent, pertinent questions. Asking Barack Obama if he thought Bill Clinton was the first African-American president of the United States? Seriously? While race is an issue in this campaign (maybe made more so by the media), questions such as these serve to detract from real policy debates. After all, that's what you hoped for from this debate, right Wolf?

    January 22, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  18. Blondie

    The debate was exciting. I was sure glad to see Obama take a strong stand.

    January 22, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  19. Introspective

    Or maybe, Mr. Blitzer, moderating debates is not your cup of tea.

    January 22, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  20. Michael

    Wolf did a great job last night, trying to be fair and truly listening in order to get it right. Great job, Wolf!

    For the record, Obama began the mud slinging with the Walmart comment, and Clinton took it up a notch with the "slumlord" comment.

    Very good stuff! Never a boring moment!

    January 22, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  21. Ratgurl

    It's interesting to see how many Hillary supporters are responding here & claiming "Obama started it!" Seriously, Hill has been on the attack, both advertently and inadvertently outside of the debates, while Obama has been forced to defend himself. Up until this debate, he's been remarkably restrained; it is now time for him to defend himself and his record. Are the Obama supporters' responses being deleted?

    Personally, I was willing to vote for Hillary if she was the Democrat to run, but after her recent behavior and her dirty tactics, I don't want her representing my country. Besides, didn't she used to be a Young Republican back in the day?

    January 22, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  22. Lee

    I think that debate last night was an excellent example of what we can look forward to with the democratic and republican nominees. And last night Hillary could have beat em. She was strong and forceful and never waivered. Obama stuttered and said I I I and um um um and wait wait wait – he was totally shaken up. The republicans (John McCain) will have him for lunch.

    Hillary showed she can be tough and stand her ground without stuttering. Obama was a shaking mess.

    Hillary is getting my vote. She can beat ANY republican nominee

    January 22, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  23. Elaine

    I thought it was a great debate. I didn't like the attacks, but that is the nature of the system. I appreciated that there was plenty of time for the candidates to speak.

    January 22, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  24. C

    I thought the CNN team handled the intensity of the debate quite well. I didn't care for all the bickering, but it did make me see the true character of each candidate. I started liking Edwards more because he didn't get dragged in to the fight between Hilary and Obama and actually talked about the policies. It made Hilary looked presidential with her ability to stand up to the attackes with class and some great zingers. I think the looser was Obama with his "this is really important" and "last point I have to make" which ended up being nothing substantial. He seemed to be on the defensive and didn't really answer any questions. I do think CNN should have stopped Obama rambling and let Edwards answer some questions and rebuttals. I like Obabma as a person because he seemed to be very charming, but I have yet to see what he can do as President.

    January 22, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  25. Vince


    Here's my problem with the way you or any of the Media do these debates. You always seem to looking to start a fight between the candidates, raise some controversy, improve ratings.

    Why not ask a serious set of questions about policy and governing philosophy?

    Ask for an explanation to their approach to solving the nation's problems. Ask them about energy policy, fiscal policy, national defense etc...

    Maybe to boring for the viewing public?

    January 22, 2008 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
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