History of US Prez debates littered with legendary gaffes

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New York, Oct 19 US Presidential debates provide the crucial opportunity for candidates to make a "big difference" and influence voters but the history of debating is also littered with gaffes, from Richard Nixon's legendary "sweaty upper lip" to George H W Bush checking his watch.

hillary clinton

With Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump gearing up for their final debate today at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, Dean of the Austin Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College, David Birdsell said the final debate is the "last known opportunity" to make a big difference but the candidates can also "injure themselves through a gaffe, a serious misstep of some sort".

"This is indeed the last scheduled opportunity for either candidate to make a big difference," Birdsell said at a session organised by the New York Foreign Press Centre this week on what to expect in the final debate. He said as the debates progress, the number of people who call themselves undecided shrinks as more and more people make up their mind about which candidate they want to vote for.

While the presidential debates provide the candidates a unique opportunity to win voters with their performance and policy visions, Birdsell said the history of presidential debating is littered with gaffes, including Nixon's famous sweaty upper lip and shifting eyes in the first ever presidential debate in 1960 and President Barack Obama's lackluster performance in his first debate with Mitt Romney in 2012.

The first presidential debate was held in September 1960 between US Senator John F Kennedy, the Democratic nominee, and Vice President Nixon, the Republican nominee, in Chicago.

It was also the nation's first televised debate and Nixon was even criticised for wearing his light-coloured suit against a light-coloured background. The picture of Nixon dabbing the sweat off his upper lip during the debate is part of legendary debate yore.

Birdsell said there was widespread consensus that Obama too "did not do such a great job" in the first debate against Romney in 2012.

"Romney looked energetic. He was smart. He had his numbers behind him. And Obama looked a little, 'I'm here, I'm going to make my arguments but I'm a little tired and I really wish I weren't here'", Birdsell said.

Obama, however, was back in the game in the second debate, meeting "expectations as a tremendously articulate, successful communicator" and emerging the victor in the debate. 


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