Vice Presidential Debate Shockers: Eight Moments We'll Never Forget

Eight famous nights from the vice presidential debates of yore.

ByABC News
October 9, 2012, 2:29 PM

Oct. 11, 2012 -- Intro: Don't call it an "undercard." With President Obama slumping in the polls after taking one on the chin during his debate with Mitt Romney last week, Vice President Joe Biden and the challenger, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, are primed for a main event of their own tonight in Danville, Ky.

History says that when it comes to vice presidential debates, it's all about keeping your cool and holding the line for the boss. In that regard, both contenders will face real challenges: Ryan must be careful not to open up any gaps between his own policy preferences and Romney's, abortion rights among them.

For Biden, the charge is to break the GOP ticket's momentum and keep from adding to this list of colorful moments in the process.

Here's a collection of the most celebrated (or despairing, depending on which side you're on) moments in the annals of vice presidential debate shenanigans.

Tune in to on Thursday for livestreaming coverage of the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate moderated by ABC's Martha Raddatz in Danville, Ky. Coverage kicks off with ABC News' live preview show at noon, and full debate coverage begins at 8 p.m.

quicklist: 1category: Veep Debate momentstitle: Sarah Palin asks Joe Biden, 'Can I Call You Joe?' (2008)url: text: As the 2008 vice presidential candidates took the stage, a record 70 million Americans watching, Palin shook Biden's hand and asked if he wouldn't mind being called, "Joe." But why? Was Palin just being friendly… or was it something else, a bit of folksy guile designed to throw Biden off his game?

Neither, as it turns out.

Palin explains in her memoir: "During rehearsals, I accidently called [debate prep partner] Randy 'Senator O'Biden'… We laughed about it but knew that if I said it even once during the debate, it would be disastrous. Then somebody said, 'You ought to just call him Joe.' ... So that's what we decided I would do. We had no idea my mic would already be hot when I walked onstage, crossed over to his turf, and said, "Can I call you Joe?"

Aides and independent reports have confirmed her account.

Tune in to on Thursday for livestreaming coverage of the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate moderated by ABC's Martha Raddatz in Danville, Ky. Coverage kicks off with ABC News' live preview show at noon, and full debate coverage begins at 8 p.m.

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quicklist: 2category: title: Lloyd Bentsen to Dan Quayle: You're No JFK (1988)url:

text: Perhaps the most celebrated political putdown in modern American history. Bentsen, a veteran senator from Texas, along with the debate moderators had been pressing the 41-year-old Quayle about his relative lack of experience in office.

"Three times that I have had this question and I'll try to answer it again for you," Quayle told moderator Tom Brokaw, eventually arguing he had "as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency."

And with that, Bentsen drew his dagger.

"Senator," he said, "I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."

Quayle and the presidential candidate, George H. W. Bush, would get the last laugh, as Bush trounced Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis in the November election. It would, however, be Quayle's last gig in government. He now works for a private equity firm.

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quicklist: 3category: title: When Dick Cheney 'Met' John Edwards (2004)url:

text: Cheney, like Joe Biden when he steps onto the stage with Paul Ryan Thursday night, was tasked with reversing a negative trend that began when his boss, President George W. Bush, struggled during an opening debate with Sen. John Kerry.

To do the job, Cheney brought along a few "zingers," the most memorable launched during an assault on Edwards's attendance record in the Senate.

"Your hometown newspaper has taken to calling you 'Senator Gone,'" Cheney said. "The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight."

(Note: Cheney was wrong. Both he and Edwards were both in the room for the 2001 National Prayer Breakfast. Cheney even name-dropped his future foe.)

Later in their debate, Edwards (like Kerry during his debate), brought up Cheney's daughter's sexuality while answering a question about a Republican effort to push Gay Marriage ban amendment to the Constitution.

"I think the vice president and his wife love their daughter," Edwards told moderator Gwen Ifil. "I think they love her very much. And you can't have anything but respect for the fact that they're willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter, the fact that they embrace her. It's a wonderful thing."

Whatever Cheney felt at the moment -- surprise, anger, confusion, or genuine appreciation, we might never know – he replied in a measured tone.

"Let me simply thank the senator for the kind words he said about my family and our daughter," he said. "I appreciate that very much."

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quicklist: 4category:title: 'Why' Is Admiral James Stockdale Here? (1992)url:

text: It's the question the former Vietnam prisoner of war posed himself, by way of introduction during his three-way debate with then-Sen. Al Gore and incumbent Vice President Dan Quayle.

"Who am I? Why am I here?" Stockdale joked to approving laughter and applause. But when the 68-year-old stumbled through other parts of the debate, at one point asking the moderator, ABC News political chief Hal Bruno, to repeat a question because he didn't have his "hearing aid turned on," that turned into a punchline.

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quicklist: 5category: title: George H.W. Bush 'Helps' Geraldine Ferraro 'With That' (1984)url:

text: An historic encounter – Ferraro was the first woman to run on a presidential ticket – went memorably bad for the incumbent vice president and future commander-in-chief George H. W. Bush.

When the debate turned to foreign policy matters, Bush, a former CIA director, said, "let me help you with the difference, Ms. Ferraro, between Iran and the embassy in Lebanon."

"I almost resent, Vice President Bush, your patronizing attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy," then-Congresswoman Ferraro shot back

Bush's standing wasn't helped the next day, when speaking off the cuff to a handful of longshoreman he was caught on tape saying, "I think we did kick a little ass last night."

Not that any of it hurt President Ronald Reagan, who roared past Democrat Walter Mondale in winning a second term.

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quicklist: 6category: title: Bob Dole Does A Body Count (1976)url: text: The first ever vice presidential debate took place in Houston and pitted future Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole, then a senator from Kansas, against Walter Mondale, another senator who would go on to lose an election atop his party's ticket.

Dole used the occasion to blame the Democratic party for the bloody mess of wars that had culminated in Vietnam.

"If we added up the killed and wounded in the Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans, enough to fill the city of Detroit," Dole said.

Mondale, apparently warned he'd hear something like it, told viewers, "Senator Dole has richly earned his reputation as a hatchet man tonight."

But it wasn't all war dead and hatchet men. Dole, in criticizing presidential candidate Jimmy Carter for giving an interview to Playboy Magazine, said he'd "give him the bunny vote."

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quicklist: 7category: title: Al Gore And Jack Kemp Get Bromantic On Stage (1996)url:

text: "I'd like to start by offering you a deal, Jack," Gore said early in this snoozefest. "If you won't use any football stories, I won't tell any of my warm and humorous stories about chlorofluorocarbon abatement."

Kemp replied, jovially enough, "It's a deal. I can't even pronounce it."

And then they stopped being so funny.

"As with past veep face-offs, the event was not expected to shake up the presidential contest," CNN reported, "and it didn't."

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quicklist: 8category: title: The Debate That Wasn't There (1980)url:

text: Squabbling over formats meant one of the Reagan-Carter debates was shelved – they'd share the stage only once – and the running mates never got to meet at all. George H. W. Bush wouldn't see primetime until four years later, when he met Geraldine Ferraro, and Walter Mondale, too, would have to wait another four years, when he'd win the Democratic nomination before losing in a landslide to Ronald Reagan.

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