1976: Gerald Ford vs. Jimmy Carter
“There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration,” President Ford (R) said during his second debate with former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter (D) on Oct. 6, 1976.
Unsettled by the president’s statement, panelist Max Frankel of The New York Times asked Ford to clarify whether he believed the Soviet Union was not “using Eastern Europe as their own sphere of influence,” even though it had troops in most Eastern European countries.
“I don't believe, Mr. Frankel, that the Yugoslavians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union,” Ford replied. “I don't believe that the Romanians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don't believe that the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. Each of those countries is independent, autonomous: It has its own territorial integrity and the United States does not concede that those countries are under the domination of the Soviet Union.”
Governor Carter knew that Ford had made an egregious misstatement, but chose not to attack him during the debate. He let the news media handle Ford’s blunder.
In an interview for the PBS documentary “Debating Our Destiny,” Mr. Carter told journalist Jim Lehrer that he didn’t know if that statement turned the election against Ford, “but certainly it cost him some votes, and as you know, the election was quite close.”