1980: Jimmy Carter vs. Ronald Reagan
Former California governor and actor Mr. Reagan outperformed President Carter in the one debate between the two men on Oct. 28, 1980. His on-camera savvy made him appear confident, in control, and entirely at ease.
“There you go again,” Reagan famously quipped, defusing Carter’s repeated criticism of his initial opposition to Medicare legislation.
Reagan trumped Carter at numerous points during the debate, especially after Carter made the mistake of saying that he asked his daughter, Amy (then age 13), her views on the most important issue facing the nation. (She said nuclear proliferation.)
“It seemed to me he had, because the whole thing sounded, and I think you could almost feel an attitude from the audience on it, that the president was going to make a major policy based on what a child told him,” Reagan told Jim Lehrer during an interview. “And I'm sure he didn't have that in mind, but that's the way it came out.”
Republicans borrowed another memorable Reagan line from the debate, which they (and Democrats) have used repeatedly in subsequent campaigns: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”