History Lesson: Past Debates

Prior to the debates, GOP President George Bush, who had hedged on participating in the Commission-sponsored forums, was stalked by a Bill Clinton supporter dressed in a chicken suit. At one event Bush actually engaged the chicken, saying, “You talking about the draft-record chicken or are you talking about the chicken in the Arkansas River? Which one are you talking about? Which one? Get out of here. Maybe it’s the draft? Is that what's bothering you?”

In early October, the Bush and Clinton campaigns announced they had ended their debate over debates that had been dragging on for months. Both campaigns also agreed to welcome Reform Party candidate Ross Perot onto the stage. The Commission had announced back in June of that year that Perot would likely qualify to take part in the debates.

The 1992 debates made history on two fronts — they were the first to feature three candidates in a presidential debate and for the first time, alternative formats were tried out.

October 11, 1992

Who: President Bush (R), Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton (D), Ross Perot (I) Where: Washington University, St. Louis, Mo. Moderator: Jim Lehrer as moderator, plus a panel including Sander Vanocur, Ann Compton, and John Mashek Format: No opening responses; 2-minute responses; 1-minute responses; 2-minute closing statements Sponsor/Broadcasters: CPD; ABC, NBC, PBS (CBS broadcast a baseball playoff game instead) Ratings: 62.4 million viewers

In the first debate, each candidate emphasized the main theme of his campaign: Bush stressed his experience and successes in foreign policy; Clinton called for change and castigated Bush for the weak state of the economy; and Perot charged that the government was being overrun by special interests and that the national debt was crippling America.

October 13, 1992

Who: Vice-Presidential Debate — Vice President Al Gore (R), Sen. Al Gore (D), Admiral William Stockdale (I) Where: Georgia Tech, Atlanta Moderator: Hal Bruno Format: 2-minute opening statements; 75-second responses; 5 minute discussion on each topic; 2-minute closing statements Sponsor/Broadcasters: CPD; Networks Ratings: 51.2 million viewers

In the debate, Quayle repeatedly attacked Clinton’s credibility, arguing that Clinton had neither “the strength nor the character to be president.” Gore criticized what he saw as the failure of 12 years of Republican “trickle-down” economic policies, and emphasized his commitment to protecting the environment.

Perot running mate Stockdale, who had no prior political experience, uttered his famous “Who am I? Why am I here? I’m not a politician-everybody knows that” line. Clinton aides later criticized Gore for failing to aggressively defend his running mate.

October 15, 1992

Who: Bush, Clinton, Perot Where: University of Richmond, Richmond, Va. Moderator: Carole Simpson Format: Town hall meeting with 209 undecided voters asking questions Sponsor/Broadcasters: CPD; Networks Ratings: 69.9 million viewers

October 19, 1992

Who: Bush, Clinton and Perot Where: Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich. Moderator: Jim Lehrer Format: First half — roughly 2-minute answers; 1-minute rebuttals. Second half — 3-journalist panel of Gene Gibbons, Helen Thomas and Susan Rook posed questions; 2-minute closing statements. Sponsor/Broadcasters: CPD; Networks Ratings: 66.9 million viewers

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