Kennedy vs. Nixon
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Photos: Memorable presidential debate moments

Kennedy vs. Nixon
The first nationally televised debate in 1960 set the precedent for all presidential debates to come, pitting the photogenic John F. Kennedy against the visibly run-down Richard Nixon. Though radio listeners famously ruled that Nixon won the debates, the 70 million viewers who saw the debates on TV thought that Kennedy won out over the weary, recently hospitalized Nixon. The debates played such a prominent role in Nixon’s eventual loss that it wouldn’t be until 1976 that presidential candidates would agree to another televised debate. (Los Angeles Times) (Getty Images)
Ford vs. Carter
President Ford faced off against Jimmy Carter in 1976, hoping to catch up to the Democratic challenger’s wide lead in the polls, only to shoot himself in the foot on foreign policy, declaring, “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe,” a statement that surprised voters and Eastern Europeans alike. Moderator Max Frankel’s reaction “I’m sorry, what?” perfectly summed up Ford’s stumble. (Los Angeles Times) (Getty Images)
Carter vs. Reagan
President Carter, looking to put Ronald Reagan on the defensive, ended up walking into a trap in 1980. During the campaign’s only debate, held just a week before election day, Reagan jumped on an opportunity presented by Carter’s persistent attacks on his Medicare policies, laughing off Carter’s argument, saying, “There you go again.” (Los Angeles Times) (Getty Images)
Bush vs. Dukakis
Much is made of the candidates and the role they play in the presidential debates, but moderators can also shift the balance of the campaigns, with the debate between then-Vice President George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis in 1988 serving as a prime example. CNN correspondent Bernard Shaw asked Dukakis whether his staunch opposition to the death penalty would be waived were his wife to be raped and killed. Dukakis, calm and without much emotion, said no, and though the former Massachusetts governor has stuck by his answer, his response to the atypical question did nothing to help his campaign. (Los Angeles Times) (Getty Images)
Quayle vs. Bentsen
Then-vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle had a fair share of gaffes in his portfolio, but one of his most prominent flubs occurred during the 1988 vice presidential debates. Claiming that he had “as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency,” Quayle opened himself up for attack from Democratic Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine,” Bentsen said. “Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.” “That was really uncalled for, Senator,” Qualye replied amid cheers from the audience. “You’re the one that was making the comparison,” Bentsen said. (Los Angeles Times) (Getty Images)
Bush vs. Clinton vs. Perot
In a three-way presidential debate in 1992, President George H.W. Bush stood out in the worst way possible, appearing to be aloof and uninterested in a audience member’s question about how the recession was affecting the lives of each candidate. Bush took a lengthy look at his watch, before offering a less-than-stunning response. “Of course, you feel it when you’re president of the United States. That’s why I’m trying to do something about it by stimulating the export, vesting more, better education systems.” Bush’s gestures reflected his sentiment toward the debates, evidenced by him later telling former PBS “NewsHour” anchor Jim Lehrer that he was glad “when the damn thing was over.” (Los Angeles Times) (Getty Images)
Quayle vs. Gore vs. Stockdale
Featuring three prominent presidential candidates, the 1992 election’s debates were of particular interest. H. Ross Perot’s vice presidential candidate, the largely unknown retired Vice Adm. James Stockdale, stood out in his debate from the pack with a strange introduction to the American public. “Who am I? Why am I here?” he asked in his opening remarks. “I’m not a politician, everybody knows that, so don’t expect me to use the language of a Washington insider.” Stockdale, who stumbled over responses to several questions, also drew laughs when he asked moderator Hal Bruno of ABC News to repeat a question since he didn’t have his hearing aid on. (Los Angeles Times) (Getty Images)
Biden vs. Palin
Sometimes no moment is a moment in and of itself. Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden and Republican candidate Sarah Palin, both known for delivering candid, scene-stealing remarks, held a generally uneventful debate in 2008. Palin stuck closely to trumpeting Sen. John McCain’s record and qualifications, while Biden persistently worked to tie McCain to outgoing President George W. Bush’s policies. (Los Angeles Times) (Getty Images)
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