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Vice Presidential Debates Provide Memorable Moments Of Campaigns Past


The two men who hope to become vice president will debate for the first time tomorrow night. The matchup between Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Mike Pence isn't expected to be as lively as last week's debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. But, hey, who knows?

There've certainly been some memorable moments from V.P. debates over the years. So much so that NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving has a list of favorites, which we can count on you to have when it comes to politics.


CORNISH: Welcome to the studio, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Audie.

CORNISH: So this year, we have the first female presidential nominee of a major party. But in 1984, it was the first time a woman was up for vice president, right? So take us back to '84. What happened with Geraldine Ferraro and George H.W. Bush?

ELVING: So Vice President Bush is quite eager to show how much he knows about foreign policy. Right away, they get into it with references to the hostage crisis from the late 1970s in Iran and a more recent bombing of the U.S. embassy in Lebanon.


GEORGE H W BUSH: Let me help you with the difference, Ms. Ferraro, between Iran and the embassy in Lebanon.

ELVING: You know, even then, Geraldine Ferraro was not going to put up with mansplaining from George H.W. Bush.

CORNISH: Oh, right, with the let me help you.

ELVING: Exactly.


ELVING: So she came back with this.


GERALDINE FERRARO: Let me just say, first of all, that I almost resent, Vice President Bush, your patronizing attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy.


CORNISH: Some applause there.


CORNISH: Back when you were allowed to applaud?

ELVING: They've always been told not to applaud or cheer or groan, but as we'll see as we go through these other examples, the audiences have usually not behaved.

CORNISH: I want to move on to another vice presidential debate on your list. It's four years later in 1988. It actually becomes one of the most iconic moments in all of politics involving Dan Quayle.

ELVING: Yes, and he was the Republican nominee for vice president that year. He was 41 years old and had been in the Senate for eight years but looked younger and was not a person regarded as formidable. So he was using this line.


DAN QUAYLE: I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency.

ELVING: OK, and the Democratic nominee is Lloyd Bentsen. He is from another generation entirely, actually served with Kennedy in the House when Dan Quayle was a toddler. And so he was ready.


LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.


ELVING: Yeah, no restraining that audience. Four years later, though, Dan Quayle had served four years as vice president. And he was actually back onto a debate stage.

CORNISH: He was one of three candidates that year. But what happened?

ELVING: That year, the Democrat was a fellow by the name of Al Gore. And he and Quayle did a lot of squabbling back and forth about the presidential nominees on the ticket. But that was all pretty forgettable. And what people do remember is the third guy on the stage, an independent candidate who was running with a businessman, Ross Perot.

He was a retired Navy admiral named James Stockdale.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Admiral Stockdale, your opening statement, please, sir.

JAMES STOCKDALE: Who am I? Why am I here?


ELVING: Oh, and that was really kind of sad because the admiral was a very serious and capable admiral and Navy figure, just not a stage performer.

CORNISH: OK, but in 2008, you had two big personalities on one stage. And that was Joe Biden and Sarah Palin. What happened there?

ELVING: Sarah Palin was waiting for a moment when she could use a line that Ronald Reagan had made famous in 1980, there you go again.


SARAH PALIN: Say it ain't so, Joe. There you go again, pointing backwards again, though you prefaced your whole...

JOE BIDEN: (Laughter).

PALIN: ...Comment with the Bush administration. Now, doggone it, let's look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future.

ELVING: Now, that was Joe Biden you heard laughing in that particular moment in her answer. And in the end, this particular debate, as dramatic as it was expected to be and given all the expectations on both of these two personalities, turned out to be kind of a nothing and did not really affect the outcome of the election.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.