Democratic Party (United States) presidential debates, 2008

The 2008 Democratic Presidential Debates were political debates prior to and during the 2008 Democratic Primaries. The debates began on April 26, 2007, in Orangeburg, South Carolina.


Election 2008

The 2008 United States Presidential Election is November 4, 2008. The debates, campaigns, primaries, and conventions occur several months before Election Day. The new President and Vice-President are sworn in January 20, 2009. It is the first Presidential election lacking incumbents since 1952, and was projected to be the largest and most expensive election in U.S. history.

2008 Democratic candidates

Already, eight Democrats had formally filed papers with the Federal Election Commission, making them formal candidates for the Democratic Nomination and the Presidency. The candidates who attracted the most media attention included Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. Other candidates included Dennis Kucinich, who has withdrawn, and Mike Gravel, before he defected to the Libertarian Party. Tom Vilsack, one of the earliest candidates to announce a campaign for President, withdrew before participating in any debates. Christopher Dodd and Joe Biden dropped out of the race following the Iowa caucuses, and Bill Richardson dropped out after the New Hampshire primary.

Candidates in debate

Withdrawn candidates

Debate table

Key:  P  denotes candidate participated in debate;  N  denotes candidate was not invited;  A  denotes candidate absent but was invited;  O  denotes candidate was out of the race.

Details Candidates Participating
Date Location TV Network Sen. Biden Sen. Clinton Sen. Dodd Sen. Edwards Sen. Gravel Rep. Kucinich Sen. Obama Gov. Richardson
April 26, 2007 Orangeburg, South Carolina MSNBC P P P P P P P P
June 3, 2007 Manchester, New Hampshire CNN P P P P P P P P
June 28, 2007 Washington, D.C. PBS P P P P P P P P
July 12, 2007 Detroit, Michigan none P P P P P P P P
July 23, 2007 Charleston, South Carolina CNN P P P P P P P P
August 4, 2007 Chicago, Illinois none A P P P P P P P
August 7, 2007 Chicago, Illinois MSNBC P P P P N P P P
August 9, 2007 Los Angeles, California Logo A P A P P P P P
August 19, 2007 Des Moines, Iowa none P P P P P P P P
September 9, 2007 Coral Gables, Florida Univision A P P P P P P P
September 12, 2007 online-only none P P P P P P P P
September 20, 2007 Davenport, Iowa PBS P P P P N N A P
September 26, 2007 Hanover, New Hampshire MSNBC P P P P P P P P
October 30, 2007 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania MSNBC P P P P N P P P
November 15, 2007 Las Vegas, Nevada CNN P P P P N P P P
December 4, 2007 Des Moines, Iowa none (radio only, NPR) P P P P P P P A
December 13, 2007 Johnston, Iowa CNN, Fox News Channel, IPTV, MSNBC P P P P N N P P
January 5, 2008 Manchester, New Hampshire ABC O P O P N N P P
January 15, 2008 Las Vegas, Nevada MSNBC O P O P N N P O
January 21, 2008 Myrtle Beach, South Carolina CNN O P O P N N P O
January 31, 2008 Hollywood, California CNN O P O O N O P O
February 2, 2008 New York, New York MTV O P O O N O P O
February 21, 2008 Austin, Texas CNN O P O O N O P O
February 26, 2008 Cleveland, Ohio MSNBC O P O O N O P O
April 13, 2008 Grantham, Pennsylvania CNN O P O O O O P O
April 16, 2008 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ABC O P O O O O P O

Key:  P  denotes candidate participated in debate;  N  denotes candidate was not invited;  A  denotes candidate absent but was invited;  O  denotes candidate was out of the race.


April 26, 2007 – Orangeburg, South Carolina, South Carolina State University

The first Democratic debate was in the evening of April 26, 2007, in Orangeburg, South Carolina, at South Carolina State University. State party chairman Joe Erwin said that he chose South Carolina State because it is a historically black college, noting that African-Americans have been the "most loyal" Democrats in the state.[8] The debate was 90 minutes with a 60-second time limit for answers, and no opening or closing statements.[9] It was broadcast via cable television and online video streaming by MSNBC.[10]

The debate was moderated by Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News. Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, New Hampshire sent two students to cover the debate on location who gained spin room access.

The major issue discussed was the Iraq War, with all candidates strongly criticizing President George W. Bush.[9] Although there was some initial hype,[11] the debate was seen by pundits as unspectacular, with no single "breakout" candidate.[11][12] A poll of 403 South Carolina debate watchers indicated that they believed Senator Barack Obama won the debate with 31% to Clinton's 24%.[13] However, Tom Baldwin of The Times and Ewen MacAskill of The Guardian both reported that Clinton appeared to retain her frontrunner status.[14]

Political pundits such as Chris Matthews, Howard Fineman, Keith Olbermann and Joe Scarborough declared that Clinton was the most "presidential", in that her appearance and answers were succinct, within the time limit and thorough, leaving no second-guesses. They effectively called her the winner.

With regards to the solid third-polled candidate Former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), pundits varied, with some asserting that his performance was weak and not the usual energetic performance that he portrayed in 2003, when he first ran. Howard Fineman also opined that questions regarding his $400 haircut and his "Two Americas" theme are under fire because of severe discrepancies, threatening his main campaign theme.

June 3, 2007 - CNN 7:00pm EDT - Manchester, New Hampshire, Saint Anselm College

WMUR-TV, CNN, and the New Hampshire Union Leader hosted both Democratic and Republican debates in the Manchester, New Hampshire area, at Saint Anselm College. The Democratic debate was Sunday, June 3, starting at 7 PM EDT and lasting two hours, commercial free. The moderator was Wolf Blitzer, host of Late Edition and The Situation Room.[15] He was joined by Tom Fahey of the New Hampshire Union Leader and Scott Spradling from the local NH television station WMUR. The first half of the debate was a directed question and answer, with candidates at podiums, as in the first debate, responding to questions from Fahey and Spradling. Participating candidates were Barack Obama, John Edwards, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel, Christopher J. Dodd, Bill Richardson and Joseph R. Biden, Jr.[16][17][18]

For the second half, candidates sat in chairs, while audience members in New Hampshire, mostly undecided Democratic and independent voters, asked questions which were then deflected by Wolf Blitzer to specific candidates.

June 28, 2007 - PBS - Washington, D.C., Howard University

PBS held and televised a debate at Howard University, a historically black college. The moderator was Tavis Smiley. All eight candidates discussed various topics including education, poverty, unemployment, racial discrimination, and health in the black community.[19][20] The debate drew a record crowd of who's who celebrities such as Harry Belafonte, Al Sharpton, Dorothy Heights, Jesse Jackson, Terry McMillan, Judge Hatchett, Mark Ridley-Thomas, amongst other celebrities.[citation needed] This was the first debate to give equal time to all the candidates.

July 12, 2007 – Detroit, Michigan

Attended by all eight candidates.

This was held during the NAACP convention. John Edwards and Hillary Clinton were overheard—on stage, over microphones—talking about weeding out non-frontrunner candidates from participating in future debates.[21]

July 23, 2007 - CNN - Charleston, South Carolina, The Citadel

CNN and YouTube held this debate on the campus of The Citadel. All questions were selected from, and posed as videos submitted via, YouTube by members of the public; the debate was moderated by Anderson Cooper of Anderson Cooper 360. YouTube and Google streamed the event live.[22] It was also simulcast on CNN en Español.

August 4, 2007 – Chicago, Illinois

The Yearly Kos Presidential Leadership Forum was an informal discussion attended by seven of the eight presidential candidates, with Biden not attending due to votes in Congress. New York Times Magazine writer Matt Bai, DailyKos Contributing Editor /Fellow Joan McCarter and author and blogger Jeffrey Feldman moderated. The debate was broken down into Domestic Policy, Foreign Policy, and Philosophy and Leadership. Candidates were alloted 90 seconds for each question with 45 second rebuttals, although the time limits were not strictly enforced. After the debate, breakout sessions were held where convention goers could question each candidate individually.

August 7, 2007 – Chicago, Illinois

The AFL-CIO Working Families Vote Presidential Forum was held at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois in front of approximately 15,000 union members and their families. The questions in the debate will be used to determine if and whom the AFL-CIO will endorse in the Democratic primary. MSNBC host Keith Olbermann hosted the debate, which featured seven of the candidates. Mike Gravel was excluded because he failed to submit a written questionnaire by the August 6 deadline. Gravel claimed that the questionnaire "fell through the cracks" and requested to be invited to the debate anyway, which was rejected by the AFL-CIO. Questionnaires were also sent to Republicans but no candidates responded.[23]

August 9, 2007 – Los Angeles, California

LGBT network Logo hosted this debate focusing on LGBT issues, moderated by Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese and singer Melissa Etheridge. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bill Richardson, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, and Mike Gravel participated. Mike Gravel was originally to be excluded from this debate, it being cited that his campaign had not raised enough money to qualify for participation. Rallying from Gravel's supporters reversed this decision. Dodd and Biden both stated scheduling conflicts prevented them from attending. Logo invited the Republicans presidential candidates to a similar debate, but all the candidates declined.[24]

August 19, 2007 – Des Moines, Iowa

ABC News in conjunction with the Iowa Democratic Party held a debate streamed on This Week moderated by George Stephanopoulos.[25] ABC has been accused of spinning the results of the debate due to extreme differences in the time alloted to candidates. ABC also deleted poll results when they showed Dennis Kucinich in the lead.[citation needed]

September 9, 2007 – Coral Gables, Florida, University of Miami

Univision hosted a forum, Destino 2008, in Spanish at the University of Miami's Bank United Center in Coral Gables, Florida and moderated by Univision's anchors Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas.[26][27] Joe Biden did not participate in the debate.

Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd objected to the debate being conducted in English with simultaneous translation in Spanish. Both are fluent in Spanish but it was perceived to cause an unfair advantage for the two. The TV audience of 2.2 million was also the debate season's youngest, at an average of 36 years old.

September 12, 2007

Yahoo!, in partnership with The Huffington Post, produced a "mashup" debate with Charlie Rose interviewing the candidates. Segments were recorded on September 12, with the "mashups" posted on September 13.[28]

September 20, 2007 – Davenport, Iowa

PBS held a forum focused on domestic issues, specifically health care and financial security. It was moderated by Judy Woodruff, and was a joint venture between IPTV and AARP.[29] Obama rejected PBS's invitation, and Gravel and Kucinich were excluded from the debate because they did not have at least one paid staff member or office space in Iowa.

September 26, 2007 – Hanover, New Hampshire, Dartmouth College

MSNBC held a debate at Dartmouth College in conjunction with New England Cable News and New Hampshire Public Radio.[30] The moderator was Tim Russert.

October 30, 2007 - NBC 9:00pm EDT - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Drexel University

The debate was held at Drexel University and was televised by NBC News. All candidates except former Alaskan Senator Mike Gravel attended the debate. It was announced on October 19 that Senator Gravel did not meet the polling requirements for the debate, though the DNC did not specifically say what the requirements were; Gravel has suggested that GE, which owns NBC and is a "war-profiteer," conspired to exclude him from the event after, during the previous debate, he questioned Hillary Clinton's signing a resolution that would possibly facilitate entering war with Iran. Instead of attending the debate, Senator Gravel staged an event at the nearby World Cafe Live.[31]

Seven Democratic presidential candidates participated in a two-hour debate starting at 9 p.m. EDT Tuesday (0100 GMT Wednesday) and telecast on MSNBC and streamed live on[32] The moderators of the debate were Tim Russert and Brian Williams. Nielson Ratings estimated the debate attracted 2.5 million viewers.[33]

Democratic rivals focused their attacks on Senator Clinton, and were particularly critical of her response to a proposal from New York Governor Eliot L. Spitzer which would allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.[34] After the debate, moderator Tim Russert was criticized for asking a misleading question to Senator Clinton regarding the release of her records as first lady. Tim Russert raised the issue of a letter which Bill Clinton wrote in which the former president ordered "a ban" on the release of his records by the National Archives. However, it was later revealed that Tim Russert misrepresented the letter, as it turns out that President Clinton was actually requesting for the National Archives to speed up the release of the records, despite the National Archive's backlog.[35][36]

November 15, 2007 - CNN - Las Vegas, Nevada

The Nevada Democratic Party hosted a Democratic debate aired on CNN. The moderator was Wolf Blitzer. Former Alaskan Senator Mike Gravel was excluded from the debate,[22] and so held a debate alternative, online at where a TiVo system is used to screen the official debate simultaneously. According to Nielsen Media Research, the debate drew a record Cable TV audience for a presidential primary debate, an estimated 4.04 million viewers.[37]

The candidates present at the debate were Joe Biden, Bill Richardson, Dennis Kucinich, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Chris Dodd, and John Edwards.

Some commentators have attacked CNN for the debate, calling it biased and poorly handled. Their accusations include claims that the final audience question was planted,[38] that moderator Wolf Blitzer was overly favorable to Hillary Clinton, and that the use of James Carville, a long-time adviser to the Clintons, as a debate commentator was biased.[39]

December 4, 2007 - NPR (radio only) - Des Moines, Iowa

National Public Radio, in conjunction with Iowa Public Radio, hosted a "radio-only" Democratic Debate. NPR hosts Steve Inskeep, Michele Norris, and Robert Siegel moderated the debate. The debate broadcasted from the State Historical Society of Iowa in Des Moines to NPR stations around the country and was streamed online. All of the major candidates were present other than New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson who was attending the funeral of a Korean war casualty.

Senators Obama and Edwards were given the most speaking time; Senator Gravel, the least.

December 13, 2007 – Johnston, Iowa

The Des Moines Register and Iowa Public Television hosted a Democratic debate in Johnston, Iowa. Six of the eight candidates were invited. Dennis Kucinich was excluded because he had not rented office space in the state. The Register determined “that a person working out of his home did not meet our criteria for a campaign office and full-time paid staff in Iowa.” Mike Gravel was excluded for presumably the same reason.[40]

January 5, 2008 - ABC 8:45pm EST - Manchester, New Hampshire, Saint Anselm College

ABC News, WMUR-TV and Facebook jointly hosted back-to-back Democratic and Republican debates from Saint Anselm College on Saturday, January 5, just three days before the official first-in-the-nation primary the following Tuesday, January 8. Charles Gibson moderated.[41] According to Nielsen Media Research, the debate drew the largest televised audience of the primary season with an esimated 9.36 million viewers.[42]

At 8:47 p.m. EST, between the two debates, Democrats Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Bill Richardson joined the Republican candidates on the stage at St. Anselm College in greater Manchester. This was the first time all of the major candidates from both parties had been together on stage, as defined by ABC News. ABC News eliminated Democrats Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel from the debate because they did not place first through fourth in Iowa, poll 5 percent or higher in one of the last four major New Hampshire surveys, or poll 5 percent or higher in one of the last four major national surveys.

Major topics were introduced with a short news-clip-style video produced by ABC and the candidates were encouraged to interact with each other. One question, " much you would spend with the programs you've proposed and the promises you've made.", was inexplicably withdrawn by Gibson at the last second after its introductory video had been shown. Aside from that, the debate ran smoothly. There were commercial breaks before and after each debate. The candidates were seated during the debates.

During the debate, Obama, Clinton, and Edwards all battled over who best exemplified the buzzword of the campaign, "change".[43][44] In one noted exchange, Edwards said that Clinton could not bring change, while he and Obama can. "Any time you speak out powerfully for change, the forces for status quo attack." He made clear that he was referring to Clinton, adding, "I didn't hear these kind of attacks from Senator Clinton while she was ahead. Now that she's not we hear them."[44] Clinton passionately retorted: "Making change is not about what you believe; it's not about a speech you make. It's about working hard. I'm not just running on a promise for change. I'm running on 35 years of change. What we need is somebody who can deliver change. We don't need to be raising false hopes."[44] Obama replied that "The truth is, actually, words do inspire. Words do help people get involved."[45]

At another point in the debate, when one moderator asked Clinton why polls showed she was less "likeable" than other candidates, particularly Obama, she joked tongue-in-cheek, "Well that hurts my feelings ... but I'll try to go on."[43]

Gibson was criticized as "out of touch" and misleading for his claim during the debate that the proposals of Obama and Clinton to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for incomes of over $250,000 would increase the taxes of a family of two public school teachers. This inaccurate claim was met by laughter from the audience.[46]

January 15, 2008 - MSNBC 6:00pm PST - Las Vegas, Nevada College of Southern Nevada

The Nevada Democratic Party partnered with the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and IMPACTO, 100 Black Men of America, and the College of Southern Nevada to hold the second Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas. The debate was telecast live by MSNBC and held at the Cashman Center in Las Vegas on Tuesday, January 15, 2008 from 6:00 – 8:00 pm Pacific Standard Time.[47][48]

Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama took part in the debate. Dennis Kucinich was originally invited to the debate after meeting publicly announced criteria, but the invitation was retracted after NBC changed its criteria shortly before the event. Kucinich sued for the right to participate in the debate, but after lower courts sided with Kucinich, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled in favor of MSNBC.[49] [50]

January 21, 2008 - CNN 8:00pm EST - Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

The Congressional Black Caucus and CNN hosted a debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina at 8:00 pm EST. This debate set another record for a Cable TV audience with an estimated 4.9 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Fast Nationals Ratings. The participants were Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. The debate, chaired by Wolf Blitzer, had an unusual format; for the last forty minutes the candidates sat down and the debate took a much more casual tone.

January 31, 2008 - CNN 5:00pm PDT - Hollywood, California

The Los Angeles Times, The Politico, and CNN hosted a Democratic debate in Hollywood, California, at the Kodak Theatre.[51][52] The debate set another Cable TV viewing record for a presidential primary debate, with 8,324,000 million total viewers.[53]

This was the final Democratic party-specific debate before Super Tuesday on February 5, 2008. This debate included two candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and started at 5 PM Pacific, ending at 6:30 PM. Topics in this cordial debate included health care, the Iraq War, and immigration.[54]

February 2, 2008 - MTV 6:00pm EST - MTV Myspace Debate

MTV and Myspace hosted a cross-party debate Live on February 2, 2008 at 6PM EST/3PM PST on MTV. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Ron Paul, and Mike Huckabee attended the debate. John McCain and Mitt Romney were invited but did not attend. Mike Gravel was not invited to attend due to little support in the state primaries and caucuses.

February 21, 2008 - CNN 7:00pm CST - Austin, Texas, University of Texas at Austin

CNN, Univision and the Texas Democratic Party jointly hosted a debate between Obama and Clinton on February 21 at 7:00 CST on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. The debate was rebroadcast at 10:30 in Spanish. Questions focused heavily on illegal immigration and the economy, among other issues.[55]

February 26, 2008 - MSNBC 9:00pm EST - Cleveland, Ohio, Cleveland State University

NBC News held a debate between Clinton and Obama on February 26 at the Wolstein Center on the campus of Cleveland State University. The debate was broadcast live at 9:00 EST on MSNBC. It was moderated by Brian Williams with Tim Russert.[56] CNN had proposed with the Ohio Democratic Party a debate on February 27 which was cancelled.[57]

April 13, 2008 - CNN 8:00pm EDT - Grantham, Pennsylvania, Messiah College

Clinton and Obama appeared at the Compassion Forum, discussing faith, values, and religion on April 13, 2008 at 8PM EDT at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. The forum was a question-and-answer session in which CNN commentator Campbell Brown and Jon Meacham of Newsweek as well as select members of the audience, posed questions about faith and politics to Clinton and Obama. Both appeared separately.[58] The forum was broadcast live on CNN.[59] The event was organized by the religious organization Faith in Public Life.

April 16, 2008 - ABC 8:00pm EDT - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Both Clinton and Obama appeared in a debate moderated by ABC News on April 16, 2008, at 8 PM EDT at the National Constitution Center.[60] The debate was nationally televised at 8 PM Eastern and Pacific (tape delayed) and 7 PM Central/Mountain (tape delayed). This was the second debate shown nationally on over-the-air television.[61]

Moderators Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos were criticized by viewers, bloggers and media critics for the poor quality of their questions.[62][63]

During the debate neither Obama or Clinton would answer whether or not they would name the other as their running mate.[64]

Some of the questions that many viewers said they considered irrelevant when measured against the faltering economy or the Iraq war, like why Senator Barack Obama did not wear an American flag pin on his lapel, the incendiary comments of Obama’s former pastor, or Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s assertion that she had to duck sniper fire in Bosnia more than a decade ago.[62] The questions from the moderators were considered to be focused on campaign gaffes and training most of their ammunition on Obama,[63] to which Stephanopoulos responded by saying that "Senator Obama [was] the front-runner" and the questions were "not inappropriate or irrelevant at all."[62][63]


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