Memorable Debate Moments

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Memorable Debate Moments


The debate schedule for the presidential and vice-presidential candidates has been set. Starting September 26, voters will have a chance to see the presidential candidates in three debates and the vice presidential candidates in one debate.

Will these events produce any memorable moments? They may, given the track record of debates from the past:



Senator John Kennedy and Vice President Nixon faced off in the first televised presidential debate on September 26, 1960. From the effects of Nixon’s illness to the differing reactions of voters who watched the debate on TV compared to those who heard it on the radio, this debate has entered the realm of myth. One thing is certain – the Kennedy-Nixon debates set the stage for what is now a rite of passage for the major party presidential candidates.

  • Debate winner: Kennedy
  • Election winner: Kennedy



On October 6, 1976, President Gerald Ford faced Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter in their second televised debate. The incumbent president’s chances to win the close race were not helped when he said, “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.”

  • Debate winner: Carter
  • Election winner: Carter



When running for re-election in 1984, President Ronald Reagan faced questions about whether he was too old to serve. Reagan put these questions to rest during his debate with Walter Mondale by quipping, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience.”

  • Debate winner: Reagan
  • Election winner: Reagan



After he won the Republican nomination for president in 1988, Vice President George H.W. Bush took a risk by choosing a young Indiana Senator, Dan Quayle, as his running mate. His opponent, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, chose an elder statesman of the Democratic Party, Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen, to be his vice presidential candidate. During the Quayle-Bentsen debate, the GOP nominee pointed out that he had “as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency.” That line teed up Senator Bentsen to give his now-classic retort: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.”

  • Debate winner: Bentsen
  • Election winner: Bush/Quayle



Texas Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore met for their first presidential debate on October 4, 2000. They discussed a range of issues, but what was most memorable for many viewers were the exaggerated sighs and head shakes form Gore. This body language led some to charge that Gore was being condescending, helping to boost the “regular guy” persona of Bush.

  • Debate winner: Gore
  • Election winner: Bush (although Gore won the popular vote)


What are your favorite debate moments? Share your highlights below!

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