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Presidential Debates: Five Mishaps Worth Remembering

Danny Lee |
October 2, 2012 | 12:47 p.m. PDT

Senior Staff Reporter

Will either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney make a flub in Wednesday's debate? (Donkey Hotey/Flickr)
Will either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney make a flub in Wednesday's debate? (Donkey Hotey/Flickr)
Wednesday night's presidential debate will give President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney an opportunity to outline their plans on domestic policy.

But both men will probably have another aim in mind -- don't provide any gaffes for the other side to use as political ammunition.

Here is a look back on some of the memorable blunders from past debates.

Kennedy vs. Nixon (1960)

In the classic "Video Killed The Radio Star" moment, John F. Kennedy came away as the big winner in the first televised debate, despite radio listeners feeling that Richard Nixon was the better debater.

The younger Kennedy projected confidence and optimism to the camera, while Nixon looked uncomfortable and appeared to be sweating under the lights.

Kennedy became the slight favorite coming out of the debate after previously trailing Nixon by six percentage points. The Massachusetts senator went on to win the presidency, edging Nixon by about 100,000 votes in the the nationwide popular vote.

Gerald Ford: "There is No Soviet Domination of Eastern Europe" (1976)

Ford uttered those infamous words during a debate against then-Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter. Even moderator Max Frankel's reaction, "I'm sorry, what?" could not get Ford to back down from his statement. The flub dented Ford's credentials on foreign policy and, perhaps, even his hopes of winning re-election as Carter came away victorious in November.

Dukakis Answers Question About Death Penalty And Rape  (1988)

CNN moderator Bernard Shaw asked Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, "Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?"

Dukakis answered, "I don't see any evidence that it's a deterrent and I think there are better and more effective ways to deal with violent crime."

While some commentators thought the question was unfair -- and even too personal -- voters interpreted Dukakis' response when discussing the rape of a loved one as being too tepid. His poll numbers dropped from 49 to 42 percent nationally after the debate and he lost the election in a landslide.

George H.W. Bush Checks His Watch (1992)

The elder Bush faced off with Democratic challenger Bill Clinton in a http://press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/530413.html " target="_blank">town hall-style format in their second debate. While an audience member was asking a question, TV cameras caught Bush looking at his watch. The gesture gave the impression that he was less-than-enthusiastic to be at the event and out of touch with ordinary citizens.

Al Gore Sighs, Invades Bush's Space (2000)

Gore's sighs in response to George W. Bush's answers during their first debate became a topic of discussion among analysts and voters. To make matters worse, in the third debate, Gore walked near the former Texas governor's podium, to which Bush responded with a slight nod.

The two moments helped reinforce public perception of Gore as a robotic, awkward candidate who can't connect with people. Despite Gore capturing the popular vote, Dubya would go on to win the "who would you rather have a beer with?" contest, the election (in controversial fashion), and the rest was history.

Read more stories from Neon Tommy's Politically Correct blog here.

Reach Senior Staff Reporter Danny Lee here; follow him on Twitter here.



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