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Looking Back at Classic Political Debates



With only one more debate to go before Election Day, Human Events offers a look at some highlights (and lowlights) of previous campaign debates.

1858: Abraham Lincoln vs. Stephen Douglas

They weren't running for President, but the Lincoln-Douglas debates Lincoln-Douglas Debates

Series of seven debates between Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln and Democratic Sen. Stephen A. Douglas in the 1858 Illinois senatorial campaign. They focused on slavery and its extension into the western territories.
 set the standard for a lively and timely discussion of the key issues of the day. Douglas went on to win the Illinois Senate The Illinois Senate is the upper chamber of the Illinois General Assembly, the legislative branch of the government of the state of Illinois in the United States. The body was created by the first state constitution adopted in 1818.  seat, but the debates pushed Lincoln into the public eye and set up his presidential victory in 1 860. The debates were held with no moderator or questioners and were closely followed by newspapers across the nation due to the focus on the slavery issue.

1960: Vice President Richard M. Nixon (R.) vs. Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kennedy "John Kennedy" and "JFK" redirect here. For other uses, see John Kennedy (disambiguation) and JFK (disambiguation).
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917–November 22, 1963), was the thirty-fifth President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in
 (D.)

The first televised debate in presidential history was pivotal in deciding the ultimate winner. Nixon had been hospitalized days before the debate. During the debate, he looked pale and sickly, had a five o'clock shadow A five o'clock shadow is beard growth visible late in the day on a man whose face was clean-shaven in the morning. The term comes from the traditional nine-to-five workday hours. , and refused makeup.

Kennedy, by contrast, was telegenic tel·e·gen·ic  
adj.
Having a physical appearance and exhibiting personal qualities that are deemed highly appealing to television viewers: "Do we insist on a telegenic President?" William F.
 and seemed at ease and confident. Over 80 million people watched the debate. According to according to
prep.
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

3.
 pollsters, people who watched on TV thought Kennedy had won, while those who heard it on the radio believed Nixon had done better.

Kennedy got a bump in the polls and went on to win a close election, 49.72% to 49.55%.

1976: President Gerald Ford (R.) vs. Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter (D.)

During their second debate on October 6, President Ford made one of the greatest gaffes in politic history when he said: "there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford Administration...."

"I don't believe ... the Yugoslavians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don't believe that the Romanians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don't believe that the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. Each of those countries is independent, autonomous: It has its own territorial integrity and the United States does not concede that those countries are under the domination of the Soviet Union."

Ford, who had been gaining on Carter in the polls before the debate, saw his momentum blunted and he lost the election 50% to 48%.

1976: Vice Presidential debate, Kansas Sen. Bob Dole (R.) vs. Minnesota Sen. Walter Mondale (D.)

Bob Dole, who was added to the Ford ticket primarily for his acerbic attack-dog wit, didn't help the Republican cause when, no matter how correctly, he charged that the Democratic Party was responsible for all of the wars the U.S. had fought in the 20th Century.

1980: Former California Gov. Ronald Reagan (R.) vs. President Jimmy Carter

Carter had refused to participate in the first debate because the League of Women Voters League of Women Voters, voluntary public service organization of U.S. citizens. Organized in 1920 in Chicago as an outgrowth of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, it had as its original nucleus the leaders of the latter organization.  had allowed independent candidate Rep. John Anderson of Illinois to participate.

The second debate-held without Anderson-occurred only a week before the election, with Carter showing a slim lead in the polls.

Carter's strategy was to paint Reagan as an extremist who would cause racial divisions and pit young against old. So, during the debate, he charged that Reagan was against Medicare and improvements in health care.

"There you go again," Reagan said, shaking his head and taking the wind out of Carter's charges.

The debate was also notable for Carter's assertion that he got advice from his 12 year old daughter Amy about the importance of nuclear weapon cuts.

Reagan delivered the coup de grace coup de grâce  
n. pl. coups de grâce
1. A deathblow delivered to end the misery of a mortally wounded victim.

2. A finishing stroke or decisive event.
 in his closing remarks by asking: "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" Reagan won the election 49% to 41%.

1984: President Ronald Reagan (R.) vs. Minnesota Sen. Walter Mondale (D.)

President Reagan did not perform up to his usual "Great Communicator" standard during the first debate - raising concerns about his age by making several verbal gaffes and finishing up with a rambling closing.

But the Gipper set up his 49 state electoral land slide during the second debate by neutralizing the age issue with this quip quip  
n.
1. A clever, witty remark often prompted by the occasion.

2. A clever, often sarcastic remark; a gibe. See Synonyms at joke.

3. A petty distinction or objection; a quibble.

4.
: "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."

Reagan won, 58.5% to 40.4%.

1988: Vice President George Bush (R.) vs. Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis (D.)

Dukakis probably lost the election during the second debate when he was asked by Bernard Shaw of CNN CNN
 or Cable News Network

Subsidiary company of Turner Broadcasting Systems. It was created by Ted Turner in 1980 to present 24-hour live news broadcasts, using satellites to transmit reports from news bureaus around the world.
: "Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?"

Already under the gun for being soft on crime because of his furlough fur·lough  
n.
1.
a. A leave of absence or vacation, especially one granted to a member of the armed forces.

b. A usually temporary layoff from work.

c.
 of violent prisoner Willie Horton, Dukakis, who went on to lose the election, 53.1% to 45.5%, gave a lengthy, rambling response where he talked about drugs in schools, called for a "hemispheric summit" to deal with drugs, touted his success in fighting crime in Massachusetts but never showed any emotion about his "murdered wife."

1988: Vice Presidential Debate, Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle (R.) vs. Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D.)

When news anchor Tom Brokaw asked Dan Quayle to "cite the experience that you had in Congress ... if it fell to you to become President of the United States The head of the Executive Branch, one of the three branches of the federal government.

The U.S. Constitution sets relatively strict requirements about who may serve as president and for how long.
, as it has to so many Vice Presidents just in the last 25 years or so, Quayle compared his experience to that of other Veeps.

"I have far more experience than many others that sought the office of Vice President of this country., Quayle said, "I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency," Although Quayle was absolutely accu* rate, he had set himself up for one of the all-time great putdowns in political history.

Lloyd Bentsen replied: "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy: I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" was a famous phrase spoken by American Democratic vice-presidential candidate Senator Lloyd Bentsen to Republican vice-presidential candidate Senator Dan Quayle during the 1988 vice-presidential debate. ".

1992: President George H.W. Bush Noun 1. George H.W. Bush - vice president under Reagan and 41st President of the United States (born in 1924)
George Herbert Walker Bush, President Bush, George Bush, Bush
 (R.) vs. Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton (D.) vs. Ross Perot (I.)

Bill Clinton seemed to enjoy the townhall debate format. President Bush obviously did not.

When someone in the audience asked about the impact of the national debt, President Bush responded: "I'm not sure I get it."

Bill Clinton had no such problem. "Tell me how it has affected you?' Do you know people who have lost their jobs and lost their homes?" he asked, trying to make voters think he felt their pain.

And when President Bush kept looking at his watch, his reelection re·e·lect also re-e·lect  
tr.v. re·e·lect·ed, re·e·lect·ing, re·e·lects
To elect again.



re
 bid was also on borrowed time and he lost, 42.9% to 37. 1%.

1992: Vice Presidential debate: Vice President Dan Quayle (R.) vs. Tennessee Sen. Al Gore (D.) vs. Retired Adm. James B. Stockdale (I.)

This debate was notable mainly for the dazed daze  
tr.v. dazed, daz·ing, daz·es
1. To stun, as with a heavy blow or shock; stupefy.

2. To dazzle, as with strong light.

n.
A stunned or bewildered condition.
 look of Adm. Stockdale when he introduced himself to America by asking: "Who am I? Why am I here?"

2000: Vice President Al Gore (D.) vs. Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R.)

After eight years of relative peace and prosperity, this election was Al Gore's to lose.

And his performance in the debates helped him do just that in what turned out to be a historically tight election, losing narrowly in the Electoral College electoral college, in U.S. government, the body of electors that chooses the president and vice president. The Constitution, in Article 2, Section 1, provides: "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors,  after gaining a 48.3% to 47.8% edge in the popular vote.

Gore noticeably sighed and rolled his eyes while Bush was speaking. He spouted policy wonk phrases ("Dingell-Norwood, Dingell-Norwood") and at one point seemed to aggressively approach Bush 2004: President George W. Bush (R.) vs. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D.)

During the first debate, much was made of Bush's scowling scowl  
v. scowled, scowl·ing, scowls

v.intr.
To wrinkle or contract the brow as an expression of anger or disapproval. See Synonyms at frown.

v.tr.
 while Kerry was talking. During the second debate. Bush at one point quipped: "That answer made me want to scowl."

Pollsters said their data showed that Sen. John Kerry won all three debates, but it didn't help him win the presidency. Bush, 50.6%. Kerry, 48.1%.

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