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Prize fighters

"Prize fighters" Continued...

Issue: "Four horsemen of the apocalypse," Oct. 4, 2008

On Oct. 7, viewers will apply those same questions to the vice presidential debates, a contest that may be watched by as many viewers as the presidential events. Though vice presidential debates have played a less significant role in the past, Palin's dark horse entry may draw more viewers than usual. (Her speech at the Republican National Convention drew more television viewers than Obama's address at the Democratic convention.)

Schroeder says viewers will tune in with one major question in mind: How will Palin perform? Given the governor's brief time in the national spotlight so far, predictions are difficult to make. "Maybe it's a smart strategy to save it all up for the debate," says Schroeder. "But it really puts a lot of pressure on her to come through with the goods on debate night."

Biden faces pressure, too, as he debates a woman who is highly popular within her party and beyond. George H.W. Bush faced criticism in 1984 for appearing to patronize Geraldine Ferraro in the vice presidential debates. "I don't think Biden is going to fall into the same trap, but he's still in fairly uncharted territory," says Schroeder.

As each of the four candidates faces a piece of uncharted territory in the final rounds of the elections, Perotti says she hopes viewers will rely on a well-worn path: "I hope people actually listen to what they're saying."

Debate milestones

1960

First-ever televised debates. Vice President Richard Nixon, recovering from a serious knee injury, looks pale and thin. Sen. John F. Kennedy looks fit and tan. Radio listeners declare Nixon winner. Television viewers favor Kennedy. Kennedy wins election by narrow margin.

1964

President Lyndon B. Johnson refuses to debate Republican candidate Barry Goldwater. Johnson easily wins election.

1976

President Gerald Ford debates Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter. Electrical power fails during live debate. The candidates stand on the Philadelphia stage in silence for 27 minutes.

1980

80.6 million viewers tune in for the Carter/Reagan debate. Most-viewed televised debate in history.

1984

Vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro becomes first woman to participate in a general election debate.

1992

Independent candidate Ross Perot debates George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Perot is the only third-party candidate ever allowed in nationally televised, general election debate.

2008

Sen. Barack Obama becomes first African American in a general election debate. Gov. Sarah Palin becomes second woman to participate.

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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