So when Brokaw asked McCain about government-funded energy innovation, McCain saw his chance to take a detour and paint Obama as a spend-happy Washington insider.
"By the way, my friends, I know you grow a little weary with this back-and-forth. It was an energy bill on the floor of the Senate loaded down with goodies, billions for the oil companies, and it was sponsored by (President George W. Bush) and (Vice President Dick) Cheney. You know who voted for it? You might never know," McCain said, gesturing to his rival.
And that was a turnoff for many voters.
GERALD FORD: "There is no Soviet domination of eastern Europe."
During his 1976 debate against Democrat Jimmy Carter, President Ford seemed to ignore the political reach of the Soviet Union, so much so that the debate moderator did a double-take. Republicans and Democrats alike recognized that Eastern Europe was largely under Soviet influence but the United States strongly opposed any efforts that would take the land and put it within their borders.
"There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration," Ford said.
"I'm sorry, did I understand you to say, sir, that the Russians are not using Eastern Europe as their own sphere of influence occupying most of the countries there, and making sure with their troops that it is a Communist zone whereas on our side of the line the Italians and the French are still flirting with the possibilities?" asked Max Frankel of The New York Times.
Carter, who went on to defeat Ford, challenged the president's views on Eastern Europe.
"I would like to see Mr. Ford convince the Polish-Americans and the Czech-Americans and the Hungarian-Americans in this country, that those countries do not live under the domination and supervision of the Soviet Union behind the Iron Curtain," Carter said.
BODY LANGUAGE: Watches, sighs and eye rolls
Sometimes, the most memorable moments are wordless.
Take the first President Bush in 1992. The incumbent looked down at his watch as a voter asked a question about the struggling economy during a town hall-style debate, suggesting he was bored with the whole thing.
Bush lost his re-election bid to Clinton.
Vice President Al Gore sent an over-the-top message of impatience during his 2000 debate with then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush with a series of loud, overwrought sighs.
Gore also overdid his incredulity toward some of Bush's claims during their first debate.
The vice president rolled his eyes, a move that his staff — and America — instantly recognized as problematic. Before the next debate, Gore's aides made him watch a "Saturday Night Live" skit mocking his performance.
Course correction was not enough. Gore lost to Bush.
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