Presidential debate: 7 defining moments in history (+video)

From Ronald Reagan’s one-liner, “There you go again,” to Al Gore’s heavy sighs and eye rolls, zingers and mannerisms can define a presidential debate even more than the candidates’ positions on critical issues. Here is a look back at seven defining debate moments.

By , Contributor

1988: George H.W. Bush vs. Michael Dukakis

Often viewed as a cold technocrat, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis (D) missed a chance to show some emotion during his Oct. 13, 1988, presidential debate with Vice President George H.W. Bush (R) – and gave the second debate of the campaign cycle its defining moment.

Moderator Bernard Shaw of CNN opened the debate with a controversial question regarding Mr. Dukakis’s stand against the death penalty.

“Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?” Mr. Shaw asked.

“No, I don't, Bernard,” replied Dukakis, without a pause.  “And I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life. 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.”

He continued the answer by describing measures he took as governor to lessen violent crime, an austere response that came across to many viewers as cold and uncaring. His approval ratings dropped 7 points that night. 

“Dukakis seemed flustered by it and, instead of saying 'I'd kill him if I could get my hands on him,' there was some kind of politically correct answer,” Bush told Mr. Lehrer in the 2008 PBS interview on presidential debates. “And I think that hurt him.”

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