7 Memorable Presidential Debate Moments

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1960: JFK v. Nixon’s 5 o’clock shadow

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AP Photo

The first televised presidential debates and the most famous, the Kennedy-Nixon bouts live on in public memory for Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kennedy besting Vice President Richard Nixon in the first debate in the eyes of television viewers but not in the ears of radio listeners. While the evidence for this is wildly overstated, there's no question that Kennedy looked sharper and more relaxed than did Nixon, who looked sweaty and strained. "My God!" Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, a Kennedy backer, said. "They've embalmed him before he even died." Kennedy also benefited by addressing the American people directly in his opening and closing statements while Nixon used his to attack his opponent. Kennedy aide Ted Sorensen objected to the idea that his boss had won the first debate on style rather than substance; he did later gleefully recount that during the subsequent debates, a Nixon aide demanded that Nixon get an equal amount of close-ups and time on camera. Nixon's running mate, Massachusetts GOP Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., said at the end of the first debate, "That son of a bitch just lost the election." Given how close final tally was—JFK won a bit more than 100,000 votes than Nixon nationwide—he may have been right.

Next: 1976: Gerald Ford liberates Poland


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