Dick Morris and  Eileen McGann

Under Wolf Blitzer's gentle questioning, Hillary was able to avert another debate meltdown in the Nevada Democratic debate held last night, November 15. Asked about driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, a compliant, even subservient, Blitzer accepted Hillary's one word answer, “No,” with no follow up. Had a better journalist been asking the questions — like Tim Russert — he would have followed up the bland negation with probing questions about why she is yet again flip flopping on the issue.

The Drudge Report today highlights that a “senior adviser to the Hillary campaign” said, earlier today, that Blitzer “was outstanding, and did not gang up like Russert did in Philadelphia. He avoided personal attacks, remained professional and ran the best debate so far.” And Blitzer checked his journalistic instincts at the door.

The debate also had a pro-Hillary bias in the amount of time allocated to Bill Richardson — who had the third longest face time in the debate. Since Richardson is auditioning for Vice President on Hillary's ticket, using his time to plead for unity among Democrats (i.e. don't bash Hillary), giving him the mike was the same as giving it to Hillary.

The audience booed when candidates knocked Hillary, likely also a part of her defensive debate strategy.

The net result was that CNN saved Hillary from yet another embarrassing debate performance.

Hillary's strategists had prepared the way for Blitzer's cave-in by pre-debate warnings against a repetition of Tim Russert's aggressive — and appropriate — questioning during the Philadelphia debate. Their loud criticisms of the bias of the “all boys club” paved the way for Blitzer's intimidated and pathetic performance during the Nevada debate.

And, of course, the reason Hillary could give a clipped one word answer to the question of driver's licenses for illegal immigrants was that New York's Governor Eliot Spitzer withdrew the proposal the day before the debate. Spitzer, who is not universally known for his weakness or even flexibility, likely pulled back the proposal to spare Hillary the embarrassment of having to defend it in the Nevada debate.

Hillary, for her part, couldn't oppose the license proposal as long as Spitzer was backing it. She could not risk a public split with the Democratic governor of her adopted home state. Spitzer takes no prisoners and would probably make Hillary pay dearly for any public criticism of his initiative. But once he pulled it back, the New York Senator was free to say her “no.”


Dick Morris and Eileen McGann

Dick Morris, a former political adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Bill Clinton, is the author of 2010: Take Back America. To get all of Dick Morris’s and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by email, go to www.dickmorris.com