History Lesson: Past Debates

Who: President Gerald Ford, a Republican, and Jimmy Carter, a Democrat. Where: Philadelphia, Pa. Moderator: Edwin Newman as moderator, plus a panel including Frank Reynolds, James Gannon and Elizabeth Drew. Format: No opening statements; 3-minute responses; 2-minute rebuttals; 3-minute closing statements. Sponsor/Broadcasters: League of Women Voters (LWV); Networks Ratings: 69.7 million viewers

The topic of the first debate was “Domestic Issues and Economic Policy.” The debate is best remembered for its mysterious loss of the audio signal with nine minutes remaining. That technical failure caused a 28-minute delay in the debate and an awkward silence between the two candidates as millions watched on TV.

October 6, 1976

Who: Ford and Carter Where: San Francisco, Calif. Moderator: Pauline Frederick as moderator, plus a panel including Max Frankel, Henry Trewitt, and Richard Valeriani. Format: No opening statements; 3-minutes responses; 2-minute rebuttals; 3-minute closing statements. Sponsor/Broadcasters: LWV; Networks Ratings: 63.9 million viewers The second debate focused on “Foreign Policy and Defense.” The big moment of this debate was Ford’s assertion that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.” This major blunder by Ford halted his momentum in the campaign just as he was catching up to Carter. Pollster George H. Gallup, Jr., claimed this was the “decisive event” which caused the sitting president to lose the election. Although surveys taken immediately after the debate showed voters believed Ford had won the event by almost a 2-1 margin, once the media disseminated the news that Ford’s Eastern Europe statement was wrong, public opinion reversed almost immediately.

October 15, 1976

Who: Vice-Presidential Debate — Republican candidate Robert J. Dole and Democratic candidate Walter Mondale. Where: Houston, Texas Moderator: James Hoge as moderator, plus a panel including Hal Bruno, Marilyn Berger, and Walter Mears. Format: 2-minute opening statements; 2 ½-minute responses; 2 ½-minute rebuttals; 3-minute closing statements. Sponsor/Broadcasters: LWV; Networks Ratings: 43.2 million viewers

Going into the vice-presidential debate, Dole said that people would rather watch a Friday night high school football game than watch the vice-presidential candidates face off. The debate was highly partisan, and some felt Dole’s acerbic style hurt his ticket.

Ocotober 22, 1976

Who: Ford and Carter Where: College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Va. Moderator: Barbara Walters as moderator, plus a panel including Joseph Kraft, Robert Maynard and Jack Nelson. Format: 2 ½-minute responses; 2-minute rebuttals; 2-minute closing statements Sponsor/Broadcasters: LWV; Networks Ratings: 62.7 million viewers

The third presidential debate was open to all issues and subjects; the consensus was that Carter won.

1980 Election

In 1980, President Carter declined to take part in any debate that included third-party candidate John Anderson, so the first debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters took place only between Anderson and Republican Ronald Reagan. The second debate took place between Carter and Reagan; Anderson by that point no longer qualified for inclusion in the debates, according to the League’s criteria.

September 21, 1980

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