As Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence squares up with his rival, the Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine, it is important to take a walk down memory lane with some of the most memorable vice presidential debate moments.
The vice presidential debate does not garner anywhere near the attention that the presidential one does for obvious reasons. And it is certainly not as consequential historically. However, there have certainly been moments that have been etched in the memories of voters as they walked into the voting booth to cast their votes.
While presidential debates have been televised dating back to perhaps the most famous one in 1960 between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, the vice presidential candidates only started having debates in 1976 when Jimmy Carter was at the top of the ticket for Democrats and was running against Gerald Ford.
However, the 1976 debate between Democrat Walter Mondale and Republican Robert Dole did not make it on the list of top five most memorable moments.
1. The most memorable moment in vice presidential debates is virtually indisputably during the 1988 campaign. That debate had the most famous vice presidential moment — and perhaps even one of the most famous presidential campaign moments. The debate was between Democratic candidate Lloyd Benson and George H.W. Bush’s running mate, Dan Quayle. After Quayle suggested that he was no less experienced that John F. Kennedy, Bentsen famously responded with the famous line:
“Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mind. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
2. In 2008, the year Barack Obama became the first African American to be elected president of the United States, Senator John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, a choice that was widely criticized at the time and after the race, with many blaming that choice as a big reason McCain lost the race. The concern as the debate approached was Palin’s clear lack of knowledge of policy or facts on the Republican side. On the other side, the Democrats were concerned that Joe Biden would look arrogant and paternalistic.
In a shrewd move, the Republicans staged an entrance for Palin that would immediately take advantage of her folksy nature and place Biden on the defensive. When she walked out to greet Biden, she famously asked “Can I call you Joe?” as she shook his hand.
However, there was a less known reason for the question which was revealed later. When she was preparing for the debate, Palin would mistakenly refer to the then Senator Biden as Senator O’Biden. The move also prevented this potential gaffe.
3. During the 1984 race between the incumbent Reagan/Bush ticket and the Democratic ticket of Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro — the first woman to be on the presidential ticket — George W. Bush, who clearly was a foreign policy expert, made the mistake of appearing to lecture Ferraro by saying “Let me help you with the difference, Ms. Ferraro, between Iran and the embassy in Lebanon.”
Ferraro shot back: “I almost resent, Vice President Bush, your patronizing attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy.”
Bush followed that up with another mistake the next day when, unaware that he could be heard by reporters, he said “I tried to kick a little a** last night.”
But the debate also serves as a lesson that the vice presidential debates do not always move the dial much on election day. Reagan won re-election in a landslide that year.
There are certainly other memorable vice presidential debate moments, but by most accounts, these are the three top ones.