A Bipartisan Treasury of Debate Bloopers and Gaffes

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By Albert R. Hunt

President Barack Obama and the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, will have their first televised debate this week in  Denver. These events are now woven into the U.S. political fabric on the national and state level.

Yet an archive of the most memorable moments wouldn't feature many exchanges over taxes, schools or national security; it would be a blooper reel.

Televised presidential debates resumed in 1976, after a 16-year hiatus, In the middle of the first encounter, the sound went dead for 27 minutes. President Gerald Ford and his Democratic challenger, Jimmy Carter, stood silent for the entire time, afraid to make an utterance or movement. It was a less-than-auspicious new beginning.

Subsequent presidential debates are remembered for gaffes such as George H.W. Bush looking at his watch during a question from the audience, or Michael Dukakis offering an analytical answer to a hypothetical question about what he would do if his wife were raped and murdered.

The same is true of the vice-presidential forums. In 1988, the Republican Dan Quayle claimed he was no more inexperienced than John F. Kennedy was in 1960. His Democratic opponent, Lloyd Bentsen, famously retorted: "I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy."

Four years later, James Stockdale, an unknown retired admiral who was the independent candidate Ross Perot's running mate, attained immortality with his opening comments: "Who am I? Why am I here?"

Then there was the Republican presidential primary debate last year. Texas Governor Rick Perry boldly declared that he would eliminate three federal agencies, and then could only name two.

Miserable performances aren't always lethal. Two years ago, Arizona's Republican governor, Jan Brewer, had a brain freeze in the middle of her opening remarks and was mute for 13 seconds.

Nevertheless, she later won re-election.

(Albert R. Hunt is Washington editor at Bloomberg News and a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)

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-0- Sep/30/2012 17:49 GMT