Arrow-right Camera
Go to e-Edition Sign up for newsletters Customer service
Subscribe now

DEBATE

By Charles Apple
The Spokesman-Review

Presidential debates offer candidates a chance to match wits in real time in front of a live TV audience. Unfortunately, it’s the wit – rather than command of the facts or their stances on the issues of the day – most viewers remember.

Sept. 26, 1960: Sen. John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon hold the nation’s first televised debate in a studio at WBBM-TV in Chicago. Howard K. Smith of CBS News was the moderator.


1960

Debates: 4 VP debates: 0

That first debate, shown above, is also be the most famous: Richard Nixon refused to wear makeup. His loss: John F. Kennedy came off as healthier and more authoritative. Interestingly, radio listeners reported they felt the opposite. The candidates matched up more evenly in subsequent bouts.


1976

Debates: 3 VP debates: 1

A technical glitch forced both candidates to stand uncomfortably in front of TV cameras for 27 minutes. In their second debate, challenger Jimmy Carter pounced on President Gerald Ford when he mistakenly declared there was “no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.”


1980

Debates: 2 VP debates: 0

President Jimmy Carter refused to include independent John Anderson in the debates. As a result, Ronald Reagan debated Anderson once and Carter once. Reagan destroyed Carter with “There you go again” and “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”


1984

Debates: 2 VP debates: 1

“I will not make age an issue of this campaign,” President Ronald Reagan said. “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Even challenger Walter Mondale had to laugh. Reagan’s re-election was sealed with one quip.


1988

Debates: 2 VP debates: 1

When vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle compared himself to John F. Kennedy, his opponent, Lloyd Bentsen, erupted: “I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”


1992

Debates: 3 VP debates: 1

Four debates were held in a nine-day period. Organizers tried a new approach: a “town hall,” where audience members could ask questions themselves. Bill Clinton displayed mastery of the format, easily topping President George H.W. Bush and independent Ross Perot.


1996

Debates: 2 VP debates: 1

Sen. Bob Dole attacked Bill Clinton for being “soft” on drug abuse and brought up Clinton’s admission he had smoked marijuana in his younger days. Clinton replied: “I know what it’s like to see somebody you love nearly lose their life” to drugs, referring to his own brother.


2000

Debates: 3 VP debates: 1

As George W. Bush made his case for himself in their first debate, Sen. Al Gore sighed heavily – repeatedly – into his microphone. Gore toned it down a bit in later debates, but the damage was done as Gore’s histronics were skewered on “Saturday Night Live.”


2004

Debates: 3 VP debates: 1

Issues? What issues? Much noise was made about a mysterious bulge under George W. Bush’s coat – which turned out to be a bulletproof vest, not a secret radio receiver – and John Kerry’s alleged use of contraband. Instead of cheat notes, Kerry had pulled out – gasp! – a pen.


2008

Debates: 3 VP debates: 1

Sen. John McCain proposed delaying the second debate in order to return to Washington to debate an economic bailout bill. Sen. Barack Obama declined and the debate was held on schedule. Congress defeated the measure and Obama defeated McCain.


2012

Debates: 3 VP debates: 1

The big loser in the first 2012 debate: moderator Jim Lehrer, who was criticized for letting both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney exceed their time limits. Later, Romney lost points for claiming he had “binders full of women” qualified to serve in his administration.


2016

Debates: 3 VP debates: 1

Hillary Clinton got in a number of zingers – “Well, Donald, I know you live in your own reality, but that is not the facts,” she said at one point – but Donald Trump held his own by repeatedly interrupting Clinton, “lurking” behind her during the second, town hall-style debate and by calling her “such a nasty woman” in the third debate.


2020 DEBATES

All begin at 6 p.m. PDT

 

TUESDAY, SEPT. 29

PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland

Moderator: Chris Wallace, Fox News

 

WEDNESDAY, OCT. 7

VICE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

University of Utah, Salt Lake City

Moderator: Susan Page, USA Today

 

THURSDAY, OCT. 15

PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

Arsht Performing Arts Center, Miami

Moderator: Steve Scully, C-SPAN

 

THURSDAY, OCT. 22

PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

Belmont University, Nashville, Tenn.

Moderator: Kristen Welker, NBC News

Sources: Commission on Presidential Debates, Washington Post, Time magazine, CNN, PBS, Vox, The Week, History.com, Museum.tv | All Photos from the Associated Press