1984 United States presidential debates

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As part of the 1984 United States presidential election, on October 11, 1984, the Democratic Party nominee for Vice President of the United States, Representative Geraldine Ferraro from New York, and the Republican Party nominee, incumbent Vice President George H.W. Bush, participated in a televised campaign debate. The debate was the first vice presidential debate to feature a woman and was the only vice presidential debate in the race. It was moderated by Sander Vanocur of ABC News and held at the Philadelphia Civic Center.[1]

The debate[edit]

Ferraro's experience[edit]

Ferraro handled a question about her experience at the debate, after being asked how her three House terms stacked up with Bush's two House terms, career as an ambassador to China and the United Nations, Director of Central Intelligence and four years as Vice President. The peak of the experience battle came when, during a discussion of the Carter administration in Iran and the Reagan administration in Lebanon, Bush said, "Let me help you with the difference, Mrs. Ferraro, between Iran and the embassy in Lebanon."[1] Ferraro responded to cap what The New York Times termed "a bristling exchange",[1] "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."[2]

Views on abortion[edit]

As a Roman Catholic, Ferraro came under fire from the Roman Catholic Church for being pro-choice on abortion, a position in conflict with Catholic moral doctrine.[3] She strongly defended her position at the debate, which earned her audience applause and a respectful reply from her opponent. Bush was attacked for his change in views since 1980, his transition from pro-choice to pro-life.[4]

Central America[edit]

Ferraro said, "We're not moving toward a more secure area of the world," in regards to Nicaragua and El Salvador, stating that both Sandinista soldiers levels and Soviet and Cuban advisors levels had increased during the Reagan years. She also criticized the mining of the harbors in Nicaragua as a violation of international law.[4]

Voting Rights Act[edit]

When Ferraro criticized Reagan's actions of refusing to support, and later signing, the Voting Rights Act the moderator, Sander Vancour, cut her off in order to ask the enthusiastically applauding audience to calm down.


The result was proclaimed mostly even by newspapers, television, other media, and historians.[2][5] Women voters tended to think Ferraro had won, while men, Bush.[6] Some media, however, either declared Bush or Ferraro the winner. The candidates were both praised for their ability to debate.

During a campaign event the next day, an open microphone caught Bush bragging that "we tried to kick a little ass last night" in the debate. That remark itself became a campaign issue with Ferraro's camp considering it inappropriate and demanding an apology while the Bush team dismissed it as an expression familiar to those having played sports in the state of Texas.[7]


  1. ^ a b c Howell Raines (1984-10-12). "Bush and Ferraro Debate: Disagree About Leadership, Foreign Policy and Religion". The New York Times.
  2. ^ a b Nelson, Michael, ed. (1991). Historic Documents on Presidential Elections 1787–1988. Congressional Quarterly, Inc. ISBN 0-87187-607-8. pp. 785ff.
  3. ^ "Pressing the Abortion Issue", Time, September 24, 1984.
  4. ^ a b "The 1984 Vice Presidential Debate". PBS. 1984-10-11. Retrieved 2007-06-09.
  5. ^ Scala, Dante, J. (2003). Shade, William; Campbell, Ballard C. (eds.). American Presidential Campaigns and Elections. M.E. Sharpe Inc. ISBN 0-7656-8042-4. p. 966.
  6. ^ Light, Paul C.; Lake, Celinda (1985). "The Election: Candidates, Strategies and Decisions". In Nelson, Michael (ed.). The Elections of 1984. Congressional Quarterly, Inc. ISBN 0-87187-330-3. pp. 103, 107–108.
  7. ^ New York Times October 14, 1984 Gerald M Boyd

External links[edit]