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. Jo


    I thought you did a decent job. However, I was annoyed when you took time to ask Obama if he wanted to respond to Hillary's comment about his slum lord connection.

    I suspected that Obama was a smooth talking orator with little substance and he proved it last night. He came across as a cry baby, accusing Hillary of misrepresenting his statements and record. Well what did he and his camp do when they took Hillary's comments about Martin Luther King out of context.

    Also, Obama blew it when he came in to the debate prepared to get back at the Clintons. He brought up Reagan's name and she didn't even mention it in the debate!! He is not ready to be president. He's bedazzling people with you know what!!

    January 22, 2008 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  2. Bill Seattle, WA

    "Jack ny, ny January 22, 2008 2:21 pm ET

    I think it is important to state who started it. In this case it was Obama. If hillary had let it go then it would have been considered as weakness."

    Are you 12 years old? Seriously, that was the argument I used when I got into a fight with my siblings growing up.

    January 22, 2008 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  3. BR-New York City

    aware January 22, 2008 2:34 pm ET

    I have one complaint. You let Obama away with too many "Wait a minute. This is important." moments. This unecessarily ate up the clock and particularly took time from Edwards.

    Otherwise, this was a very revealing debate. The Obama strategy failed miserably. Obama continued his ploy of taking things out of context to make his case. Most people look things up for themselves online or have someone do it for them. Obama also betrayed a very controlling and arrogant attitude. No unity candidate in Obama.

    I think we learned that Obama is not ready for 08

    Thanks CNN!

    Dear aware, (obviously you're not that aware)

    What debate were you watching? Did you not see "Broom Hillary" ranting and raving. Of course, you all along were planning "not" to vote for Obama because of his race. It has nothing to do with experience because if it did, tell me what experience does "Broom Hillary" have?" What public office have she been elected to before New York? You un-informed critics are just plain out ridiculous in your blatant racist views.

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

    We know who won the debate last night no matter how any body will spin the whole thing but I will just say this.OBAMA won the debate.and he will be the next president of the united state of america come jan 29.

    January 22, 2008 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  5. Katherine

    I would really have liked more light and less heat last night. The debate had little substance with the exception of John Edwards answers. The play-ground sniping at one another done by Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama was really contemptible and did nothing to illuminate their positions on the issues.

    January 22, 2008 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  6. j

    Hillary shows her true colors by deflecting criticism, refusing to give any straight answers, and she has really made all the Dems vulnerable now to McCain.....by her deplorable tactics...

    She is very despicable and very low-class.....she is a true politician, since she has shown to be very politically calculating and insincere.....

    Don't delude yourself in thinking she cares....for latinos, bush was also attempting to garner the latino vote, and now he would kick everybody out.....instead of helping them become citizens......why not vote for somebody who actually has some morals for a change???? instead of hill/bill.....

    January 22, 2008 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  7. Tom Masters


    If you do not like our Democratic-REPUBLIC then either LEAVE the country, or LEAD A MOVEMENT THAT WILL TRANSFORM THE U.S. INTO A DEMOCRACY.

    January 22, 2008 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  8. Bill Hurst

    Both candidates (Clinton and Obama) lost any possible vote from me with their bantering. It's McCain all the way.

    January 22, 2008 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  9. Jeff

    Excellent job, Wolf. I truly appreciated seeing more of the candidates' personalities, and I gained more of a feeling of them and their positions.

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

    Last night's debate was really great. I loved seeing the emotions of all three candidates. There were moments when I felt like I was eaves-dropping on a private meeting - the candidates were so into their arguments. Writers' strike? Whatever! I could watch debates like this every night.

    January 22, 2008 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  11. Marti

    Wolf I was very happy that you actually let them go back and forth. Without any back and forth, it's nothing more than a televised stump speech. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz boring!!!

    Without any back and forth, it's very difficult for people to really understand where the candidates stand. You need the back and forth to peel back the onion, to make people really answer the question, to get to the bottom of something, and to actually here a reply to the other candidate's criticism.

    I am a stauch Republican, but I found last night both entertaining and educational.

    Go Obama!!!

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


    Well done last night, my friend. The candidates came out swinging and people enjoy that the same way they love to see a fight at a hockey game.

    January 22, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  13. Bobby Drummond

    I thought you done a good job Wolf but I was disappointed that Illegal Immigration was not brought up. The democrats need to let us know exactly where they stand on this.

    January 22, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  14. Ruby

    The cable news networks can't make up thier minds what they want to raise thier ratings. Six weeks ago all we heard is. Why or when will Obama take Hillary on. Now it's all the bickering between the candidates coming out of your mouth. When ever you interview someone you don't ask about someone's plan or what the will do about a paticular situation. The first thing you do is play some snipitt of something that the media has orcastrated and then draw them in to an argument. Only the ratings matter. Let's devide the country I need ratings say's the media. Signed by Wolf, Candy Crowley,Lou Dobbs, and all those following campaigns.


    January 22, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  15. Ed

    Wolf, next time, try to control the candidates rhetoric a bit more. Last night was a useless exersize in nonsense. The back and forth did nothing to clarify their positions on the issues that actually MATTER to voters. Perhaps the debates should be scratched in favor of town hall meetings with voters asking the questions.

    January 22, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  16. Beka

    It was like Hillary TV and not pretty! All I can say is if we put her up as our candidate then we are going to loose!! She has shown her true colors so Our side will not be as motivated to vote for her and the GOPers have been licking their chops just waiting to make fools of the Clintons so they will Unite their warring factions to vote against her...Just like what happened with John Kerry! I almost wonder if Skull and Bones connections ARE thicker than blood?

    January 22, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  17. di

    i did not watch the debate but i know that if it continues like this democrats will lick their wounds again when john mccain is innaugurated... if getting married to a president is experience then barbara bush is the one we should be voting because she gave birth to a president and also married one.

    January 22, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  18. Michael Spencer

    My only criticism of the debate last night is that I wish you or one of the questioners had asked Senator Obama if he thinks that he has a problem with Latino and women voters. And if so, what he plans to do to address it if he wins the nomination.

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

    Obama needed to come out and fight! Which he did very well! He was quite presidential! Hilary, I still don't trust! Edwards might have scored some points but not position to the point of him being a force to reckon with. Obama should pick Edwards as his running mate.

    January 22, 2008 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  20. Cable King Pittsburgh PA


    January 22, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  21. Joe

    Just once in the debates I would like them to address all of the job leaving the US ans the impact on all americans.

    January 22, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  22. Katina Cruz

    I disagree with Mr.Blitzer, I thought he did a terrible job of controlling the debate. The behavior of Mrs.Clinton was horrible, but Obama was the instigator most of the time. Both of them came across as not looking very presidental. Obama never answers a question. I can't help but think the most qualified Democratic candiate is John Edwards who actually has the audacity to stick to the issues and discuss policy. Edwards or Bill Richardson would have been better choices for President. I encourage fellow Democrats vote for Edwards and let Clinton and Obama know they both came across as idiots last night.

    January 22, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  23. WZ

    Wolf, I hardly recognized ya. Without the swirling graphics, multiple monitors, skewed camera angles and the exaggerated tone of importance, you looked rather diminished. I suggest CNN drag you back to the studio and step up the spin cycle.


    January 22, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  24. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    Wolf has always been fair and impartial in all his reporting. To know Wolf is to know nothing but the truth. Unfortunately, in last nights debates he had to sit by and listen to the lies of Hillary Clinton.

    January 22, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  25. David Duke

    If Bush is where he is, the cause is the Clintons, people ran away from them and grabbed the first idiot they found.

    Now the Clintons are back and believing they are wanted.

    January 22, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
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