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. Katie

    I enjoy these debates but I'd prefer there was no audience disrupting the flow or cheering and booing

    January 22, 2008 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  2. Marilyn

    The problem I'm having with Clinton, Obama and Edwards is that during the debate I did got hear anyone come out in support of the American Veteran and veteran's programs and benifits. I am very disappointed.

    After last night I think that John Edwards needs to call it quits. There is no way he has the backbone to be the president. He could not stand up for himself. This proves to me that he can not lead our country. Let's just see Clinton and Obama battle it out.

    By the way I am a disabled veteran and I live in South Carolina.

    January 22, 2008 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  3. Aidyn

    You did a good job Wolf.

    January 22, 2008 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  4. MARIA

    wolf did a good job!!

    January 22, 2008 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  5. Richie

    I thought Sen. Clinton was mature than this but after last night debate I just feel she is after getting elected. She was asked about her plan on social security and she doesn't have any. If she think she will get my vote out of her being the first lady, think again hillary...
    To me Obama came out victories after too much piling on.

    January 22, 2008 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  6. Splendor

    I'm just glad that the candidates had more than 30 seconds to talk at times. Please continue this trend of letting the candidates talk for minutes instead of seconds. Obviously, it's up to the candidates if they want to use that time to attack other candidates, but at least they'll have the chance to address the issues facing this nation with more grace than raising one's hand allows.

    January 22, 2008 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    I thought Wolf Blitzer, Suzanne Malveaux and Joe Johns did a terrific job.
    I thought the candidates, especially Senators Clinton and Obama got unnecessarily mean spirited with their gotcha type barbs and accusations. These things diminish them and undermine the goals of these forums; which should be to enlighten us and map out a better way. We desperately need to be led out of the horrible, tragic depths this administration has pushed us into. I hope these otherwise wise and intelligent adults will decide to end the pettiness and and deliberate distortions and stay on the message of hope and change.

    January 22, 2008 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  8. paul

    Last nights clear winner was Sen. Edwards.He was the only one who spoke about what the core Democratic values are. Fighting poverty,healthcare,and socio-economic justice. Sorry Hill , sorry Barak. You both lost me.

    January 22, 2008 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  9. Phil Leslie

    You sure did sit back and remain quite, but you are excellent at doing that. Remember when you had to debate Mr. Norman Finkelstein re Mid East Policy? You sat there silent and watched the world go by too! Once again you show your viewers how ineffective you really are!

    January 22, 2008 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  10. Tracey

    I think the argument that Obama "started it" is a joke. The inaccurate statements the Clintons made against him prior to the debate "started it." No matter, is it not obvious that this is a strategy by the Clintons to engage Obama in negative dialogue? He is in a "catch 22," because many media commentators prior to the debate were saying he needs to show strength and the ability to stand up for his position. Then he addresses the false statements made about him, and now he is accused of "squabbling" and not focusing on the issues. The joke is, Clinton pulls out "dirt" on him (the slum lord comment), and I have read almost nothing about her taking the "low road." The reason for this is she is "old politics" so everyone expects it from her. At what point are we going to grow tired of this type of politics? We finally have a candidate in Obama who desired to take the "high road," and for the sake of protecting his integrity, has no choice but to address slandering statements made about him.

    Mark my words...if she wins the candidacy, we (Democrats) will struggle to win the election, because I know of NO independents or Republicans that would vote for her, and we know we need more than just Democratic support to win the general election.

    January 22, 2008 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  11. todd

    It was great Wolf. You're still one of the best. One thing I learned last night, Clinton is the most determined candidate in the whole race.

    January 22, 2008 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  12. Jeannie

    Prior to the debate, anyone watching the clips during the King memorials, when Obama approached Hillary and John Edwards, he totally ignored Hillary, touched John Edwards, and moved on. This shows how arrogrant he is and mean spirited. Hillary had a smile for him and would acknowledge him. Is this how he will treat others opposed to his political philosophy? We do not need that kind of person in the White House. He began the argument with Hillary at the debate, he wanted her to engage him during the debate. Does he think we are stupid and cannot see through his pettiness. Hillary is a mother, a mother takes care of her children, we in america are her children. She will take care of us!

    January 22, 2008 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  13. jose,california

    Let us suppose that Obama Muslim or any other unfamiliar religion to us, though we are looking to what he is promising to deliver and not what his background of religion is? He is proming unity, we, indeed, lack unity. Lack of unity is more futhering danger for our future as a great nation? We see it every day, now it is not as usual decade ago, many people with many different background are complaining of of some of us white irrogance and nonaffordable supremacy over the rest of America's factions? Let us make some change this time? In fact, we are sick and tired of those traditional politicians, who brought us to the brink of devided America?? Let us get out of Bush-Clinton-Bush yokes and set America free of their monotonous very narrow realism and their profound racism .
    We can afford a president for one term if he doesn't filfull his promises, in which I beleive he will, or two terms if he does to bring America together than continuing the devided America to widen the gap?

    January 22, 2008 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  14. Hawk,Texas

    I hope all of you Obama supporters saw just what it is you are supporting. he starts the attact then when it is turned on him he just stutters and stumbles. he tries to defend a record that he does not have. he started the dirty politics when he said he would run a clean campaign. he is as about an empty a suit as you will find. he has one thing on his mind to be president and does not care how he achives it. he calls himself black. but is half white. he lies about his voting record . both Edwards and Hillary are years ahead of him. he even praises the republicans. is he a closet republican? wake up america.

    January 22, 2008 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  15. JOSEPH

    Great job Wolf, I think if they wish to drown themselves in the routine political hogwash, let them, they are grown ups. I thought that Edwards came out spotless but not too interesting though.

    January 22, 2008 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  16. Lauren

    Actually, Nash, Senator Clinton refuses to admit she was mistaken on voting for the war. She says "If I knew then what I know now, I would not have voted for the war" and yet she didn't know enough then because she didn't read the NIE report. Edwards has admitted he made a mistake in voting to authorize the war, Clinton has not. And she has given Reagan considerably more praise than Obama, if you did some research you might know this.

    You are not an objective commentator, how could you possibly claim to be? Do you think it makes you sound more credible? No American is or should be "objective" when it comes to who our next President is. We all have an interest in this, and it is impossible for anyone to be completely objective.

    January 22, 2008 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  17. Ayo

    There is nothing new in yesterday debate; Hillary Clinton doesn't say much but distort her opponent records. As an astute Observer who has been following the whole campaign, Senator Clinton is all talk without substance. She talks too much and you hardly remember anything she said.

    Obama was right to call both Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton out. As far as i am concern, Bill has lost the last credibility he has going for him. He is not presidential at all. I surely respected George H. Bush and Jim Carter to Billary Clinton.

    Obama was mad because Hillary and Bill Clinton keeps distorting and twisting his statement. As an independent i found Obama refreshing and he's gotten my vote.

    January 22, 2008 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  18. Gloria

    Last night's Democratic Presidential debate was a huge disappointment. It appeared to me that at the outset, the CNN staff was very disaorganized. Prior to the inception of the candidates even beginning, it seemed to me that CNN personnel didn't have their act together.

    Senator John Edwards certainly was NOT given equal time.

    I watched the entire debate and the commentary following. What a discraceful, unprofessional program. From the people asking the questions, to the Moderator , to Senators Clinton and Obama; the rest of the world must be laughing at America'sTV programing, and the conduct of two people who want to become President of the United States!.

    January 22, 2008 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  19. Kate

    Wolf–you are great at moderating debates. You are my favorite anchor by far. I admire you very much. Great work last night! The debate was hot and interesting.

    January 22, 2008 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  20. john g

    Nash- I hate to disagree with u being that u are a self described objective commentator and all, but i dont believe hillary has admitted that she made a mistake in voting for the war. Edwards has , but I think hillary's still sticking with the if i knew now what i know then defense. also, i dont know if obama denied that his complimentary comments concerning reagan are considered "crossing the line in the Democratic Dictionery." First im not sure what exactly that means but i think ur inferring that his unwillingness to at all times pander to people in the democratic base who are complete partisans by complimenting someone with a different point of view or party affiliation about anything is a mistaken point of view. Maybe im crazy but i think willingness to say something that is true when its against ur political interest is actually a good thing and that continually saying and doing anything whether right or wrong, true or false to get elected is a bad thing.

    January 22, 2008 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  21. Rick, chicago

    This is just another illustration of why the process to choose a nominee is deeply flawed. After the primaries are over and a candidate is chosen he or she will be battered and bruised and will be lucky to win in the general election. We need a better system to chose candidates for each political party.

    January 22, 2008 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  22. terry

    I don't like CNN...don't like Wolf...too liberal but he did a great job with the debate last night. Let's see who these guys and gals really are. Thanks Wolf.

    January 22, 2008 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  23. Elizabeth Keeshan

    I thought the debate was great and I think Wolf did a wonderful job. I didn't think there was a lot of bickering between Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama. I thought it was a good discussion, a little heated at times, but, that's understandable.
    About Sen. Clinton being on the board of Walmart at one tiome. Walmart originated in Arkansas, so, of course she would have been on the board there. I wish the two senators would run together as a team and I hope that's the way it will become finally. They could save a lot of money and energy. Best wishes.. Elizabeth Keeshan

    January 22, 2008 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  24. frank sparks

    Wolf: why are you so biased you run, and give obama 10 times more air time on your show than you do anyone else, you are a very political Biased person as well as cnn, you do know its a federal violation to do this dont you, you are supposed to give equal time to all polititions not just Barack Obama.Now lets go by federal law from now on wolf.

    January 22, 2008 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  25. freddie

    Hi Wolf, I am a fan of yours, at times I make believe I am you when you serve as a debate moderator. At times I say at the tv screen " Wolf ask them this, or follow up with this"

    At your next republican debate in L.A. please ask the candidates the following and don't let them get away with their usual platitudes.

    Specifically request their plan to identify and deport 12 million people. Who would do the detecting, how will they round up families and will everyone not illegal would have to carry proper ID so as not to get snared.

    Some scenarios from the future enforcement as proposed by the republicans:

    The "authorities" given this task (also ask them who are they going to give this task to) will man public places such as post offices, gas stations, train stations, street corners, ball parks and challenge anybody to prove that they are "legal".

    Upon the discovery of an "illegal" what do they do with that person, do they have to be questioned and incarcerated ? What about the rest of the family and other illegal friends? If that person has children, are they also sought after? What courts will hear these cases and where will these people be incarcerated ? Will they be given bail ? and so on and so on, keep digging !

    Once the republicans have identified x numbers of illegals and have interned them in camps do they propose to sort them by countries of origin and then fly them back to their prospective country of birth ? What about their children who were born in the US, do they become wards of the state and placed in foster homes ?

    Mind you can you imagine a foreign airport refusing an American plane fully loaded with their natives. Those countries might want to do their own triage.

    In plain words these republicans have no idea what they are proposing. They just want to get nominated.

    This stinks, they know it, it's not doable and quite frankly it reminds me of faschism. You might want to ask Lou Dobbs to speak to his plan

    Let's deport the criminals if we can and have a sensible moral plan for the rest.

    I did 27 years in the NYPD I arrested several illegals and interacted with thousands of good illegals that came to this great country to make a better life for themselves and their families. They are here, let's try a humane approach not a forced exodus.

    You might want ask the candidates if they are familiar with US immigration law and the process to get into this country.

    Thanks Wolf, you and Russert are among the few reporters that are keeping evryone honest.

    January 22, 2008 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
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