US presidential debates: Memorable moments from 60 years


Published on October 28, 2020 at 06.21

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1960: The first televised debate pitted Democratic nominee John F. Kennedy against Republican Vice President Richard Nixon, who was recovering from a hospital visit and had a 5 o’clock shadow, having refused makeup.
The 70 million viewers focused on what they saw, not what they heard. Kennedy won the election. Courtesy John F. Kennedy Library Foundation/via Reuters
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1976: In the first TV debate in 16 years, Democrat Jimmy Carter faced unelected incumbent Republican President Gerald Ford.
In remarks seen as a major blunder, Ford said: "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration." Carter won the election. Thomas J. O'Halloran/LOC/via Reuters
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1980: Carter appeared in a second debate with Republican Ronald Reagan after boycotting the first for including third-party candidate John Anderson. The president accused Reagan of planning to cut Medicare healthcare funding for the elderly.
Reagan, who already had complained that Carter was misrepresenting his stands on a number of issues, said: “There you go again” and chuckled, drawing audience laughter and coining a catchphrase.” Reagan won the election. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum/via Reuters
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1984: Reagan, 73, successfully defused the issue of his age when he debated Democrat Walter Mondale, 56, quipping: "I want you to know that also 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 was re-elected. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library/via Reuters
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1988: A debate against Republican Vice President George H.W. Bush opened with Democrat Michael Dukakis being asked whether he would favour the death penalty for someone who raped and murdered his wife. The question offered a candidate dubbed "the iceman" by critics a chance to show his emotional side. His laborious response did just the opposite. Bush won the election. George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum/via Reuters
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1992: Three candidates - Bush, Democrat Bill Clinton and independent Ross Perot - shared a stage. Clinton won the election. Reuters
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2000: In his first debate with Republican George W. Bush, Democratic Vice President Al Gore drew negative reviews for sighing loudly while Bush spoke. "We all make mistakes. I’ve been known to mangle a syllable or two myself," Bush said during their second debate, purposely mispronouncing "syllable." Bush won the election. Reuters
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2004: The last debate between Bush and Democrat John Kerry offered voters a stark contrast in styles, with Bush sticking to simple arguments while Kerry released an array of facts to make his case. Bush was re-elected. Reuters
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2008: Sarah Palin, Republican John McCain’s running mate, and Joe Biden, running with Democrat Barack Obama, clashed on the economy and Iraq during a lively but polite vice presidential debate. Palin frequently displayed a folksy style.
At one point, she said: "Aw, say it ain’t so, Joe," adding a "doggone it" for good measure. Biden and Palin both vowed to make US economic policy friendlier for middle-class workers, but Biden said McCain had called the fundamentals of the economy strong as the financial crisis broke out. The Obama-Biden ticket won the election. - Reuters
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2012: Obama stumbled in his first debate with Republican Mitt Romney, surprising and worrying his supporters. But in their second debate Romney, responding to a question about gender pay equality, said he had "binders full of women" as candidates for Cabinet posts.
The phrase became a meme on social media, with tweets, original artwork and a Facebook group spoofing Romney. Obama won again. Reuters
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2016: The first debate between Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton drew 84 million US television viewers, a record for a debate and a rare number in an age of digital streaming. An exchange of insults dominated their second debate, with Clinton jabbing at Trump for sexually aggressive remarks about women he made on a just-uncovered 2005 videotape. Trump sought to deflect criticism by accusing Bill Clinton, the candidate’s husband, of having done worse to women. In her book published in 2017, Clinton wrote that in their second debate Trump made her skin crawl by stalking her around the stage and she wondered if she should have told him to "back up, you creep." Instead she said, "I kept my cool, aided by a lifetime of dealing with difficult men trying to throw me off." In the third debate Trump called Clinton "such a nasty woman" and declined to say he would accept the election results. Reuters
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