Presidential Debate Topic: Bill Clinton's Influence?

Last night CNN devoted a small segment of the second Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire to a topic they named “Bill Clinton’s Influence” in which they asked the candidates to describe “what they would do with Bill Clinton if they were the next president of the United States.”

It isn’t uncommon for Republican presidential candidates to discuss Ronald Reagan and his principles during primary debates. On the flipside it has become a noticeable trend in the liberal media to reference former President Bill Clinton during these debates. Can Democratic presidential candidates reach out to voters by imitating Clinton’s principles the way Republican candidates strive to imitate Reagan?

“Sen. Obama, arguably Bill Clinton might be the most popular Democrat out there among Democrats, if you were the next president what would have him do?” asked Tom Fahey of the New Hampshire Union Leader (CNN’s debate partner.)

“I think both answers reflect one of the former president’s enormous strengths and that was his capacity to build alliances around the world” said Obama.

“The ideal job for Bill Clinton would be Secretary General of the United Nations” answered Gov. Bill Richardson.

Sen. Hillary Clinton chuckled as she answered “this is a fascinating question, they ask the Republicans and they ask the Democrats… When I become president, Bill Clinton — my dear husband — will be one of the people who will be sent around the world as a roving ambassador to make it very clear to the world we are back to a policy of reaching out and working and trying to make friends and allies and stopping the alienation of the rest of the world.”

Similarly during the first Republican presidential debate liberal news outlet and debate sponsor MSNBC asked "Should Bill Clinton be back in the White House?"

CNN commentator Anderson Cooper put former President Clinton on a pedestal once again last night while he segued to the second part of the debate. In this segment the candidates are no longer behind a podium, they sit in a semi circle in chairs while answering questions from chosen New Hampshire voters. Cooper described this part of the debate as an opportunity to closely watch the candidates. CNN then played a clip of George Bush in a previous presidential debate checking his watch, immediately following they played a clip of Bill Clinton speaking. Cooper described this clip as Clinton making a real connection with the viewers for the first time.

Early “house keeping” announcements by moderator Wolf Blitzer revealed that the group of around 100 voters that would be asking the candidates questions during the second half of the debate had all been spoken to personally by CNN producers.

The first question was asked by an elementary school teacher whose husbands unit in Iraq was recently attacked and lost two soldiers. The second question was asked by a woman whose son is serving in Iraq — with tearing eyes she asked about veteran’s health care. Another question was asked by an elderly woman who used to live in Iran. These questions and voters were clearly handpicked by CNN producers to invoke emotion from CNN viewers rather than elicit answers from candidates.

Can we expect these same “527 Media” technique to surface when CNN sponsors the Republican debate this Tuesday? What kind of New Hampshire voters will CNN handpick to ask the Republican candidates questions? What references or questions about Bill Clinton will surface? With no flashing lights or bells to alert the candidates to wrap up their answers, can we expect Wolf be as polite as he was to the Democratic candidates or can we expect the MSNBC debate debacle all over again?