With a half-century of presidential and vice presidential debates already completed, there are plenty of great moments to choose from when picking the defining moments of each presidential contest. The best overall moments from any debate, however, are quite few. Whether it was Al Gore’s sighs or Nixon’s beads of sweat, here’s a look at the defining moments from the 20th and 21st century of presidential debating.

1. Kennedy-Nixon Changes the Game

The first televised debate, in 1960, changed the course of that election and the very nature of being elected president at all. Richard Nixon’s lack of preparedness for the camera, and his sweaty appearance throughout the debate, undermined his status as an elder statesman and essentially handed Kennedy the victory.

2. Al Gore Sighs His Way to a Loss

In an era when cable news was just emerging as a driving force in electoral politics, Al Gore’s sighs were heard around the world. His contempt for George Bush and his lack of enthusiasm at the debate ended his campaign and gave George Bush a major victory.

3. A Vice Presidential Game Changer in 1988

The vice presidential debate between Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle will perhaps always be known for one remark: “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” Though it failed to change the election’s result, it became a sound bite big enough to live on via YouTube clips and Wikipedia articles to this day.


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