United States presidential election debates, 2008

The bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) is sponsoring four debates for the 2008 U.S. presidential general election, taking place at various locations around the United States in September and October 2008. Three of the debates involve the presidential nominees, and one involved the vice-presidential nominees.

Republican Party nominee John McCain and Democratic Party nominee Barack Obama have not agreed to additional debates; however, both were interviewed back to back at a forum in August and at the Service Nation Presidential Forum in September. Their respective running mates, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, have not mentioned any other debates.


* 1 Joint appearances
* 2 Scheduled debates
o 2.1 Format
o 2.2 Participants
* 3 September 26: First presidential debate (University of Mississippi)
o 3.1 Reception
o 3.2 Proposed postponement
* 4 October 2: Vice presidential debate (Washington University in St. Louis)
* 5 October 7: Second presidential debate (Belmont University – Nashville townhall)
o 5.1 Reception
* 6 October 15: Third presidential debate (Hofstra University – Hempstead, New York)
* 7 Proposed debates that did not materialize
* 8 See also
* 9 References
* 10 External links

Joint appearances

Main articles: Civil Forum on The Presidency and Service Nation#Candidates presidential forum

On Saturday, August 16, 2008, both McCain and Obama appeared at Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church. Similar to the Compassion Forum held in the Democratic debates, each candidate appeared separately, answering similar questions from Warren for one hour. Obama appeared first, followed by McCain.[1][2]

On September 11, 2008, McCain and Obama were separately interviewed at the Service Nation presidential forum at Columbia University.[3]

Scheduled debates

Although the nominees of the Republican and Democratic parties and any permitted third-party candidates must agree to the final schedule and formats, the following is the schedule announced by the CPD on November 19, 2007.[4]

Three presidential debates:

* Friday, September 26, 2008, 9 p.m. EDT at the University of Mississippi's Gertrude C. Ford Center in Oxford, Mississippi,[5] moderated by Jim Lehrer, executive editor and anchor of The NewsHour on PBS. This debate was originally planned to focus on foreign policy and national security. Due to the 2008 financial crisis, a portion of the debate focused on economic issues.[6][dead link]
* Tuesday, October 7, 2008, 9 p.m. EDT at Belmont University's Curb Event Center in Nashville, Tennessee,[7] moderated by Tom Brokaw, special correspondent and former evening news anchor for NBC News. This debate had a town-hall meeting format.
* Wednesday, October 15, 2008, 9 p.m. EDT at Hofstra University's Hofstra Arena in Hempstead, New York,[8] moderated by Bob Schieffer, CBS News chief Washington correspondent and host of Face the Nation. This debate focused on domestic and economic policy.[6]

One vice-presidential debate:

* Thursday, October 2, 2008, 9 p.m. EDT at Washington University in St. Louis' Field House in the university's Athletic Complex in St. Louis, Missouri,[9] moderated by Gwen Ifill, senior correspondent on The NewsHour and moderator and managing editor of Washington Week on PBS.[10] The vice presidential debate covered both foreign and domestic topics.


The first and third of the 90-minute CPD presidential debates will be divided into nine 9-minute issue segments, allowing the candidates to discuss selected topics, answer follow-ups from a moderator and directly address each other. The second CPD presidential debate will feature a town hall format in which voters, either present at the debate or via the Internet, may pose questions on any topic. The single vice presidential debate format followed that of the first and third presidential debates, but included questions on all topics, with shorter response and discussion periods compared to the presidential forums.[11][12]


The Republican and Democratic nominees, as well as any third-party and independent candidates who average 15 percent support in polls, will be invited to take part in the debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Senator Barack Obama

Senator John McCain

On August 2, 2008, Obama accepted the CPD proposal. In his letter, he stated that due to the short period between the conventions and the campaign, that it was "likely that the four Commission debates will be the sole series of debates" between the two. McCain criticized Obama for rejecting his town hall proposal.[13] On August 21, 2008, McCain and Obama announced they had agreed to the general CPD framework for the three scheduled presidential debates and the one vice presidential debate.[14]

A Zogby International poll released on August 15, 2008 indicated that more than 50% of Democratic and Republican voters would like to see Bob Barr included in the presidential debates. Almost 70% of independent voters would also like to see him included. 46% of all voters polled and 59% of independents would also like to see Ralph Nader included. However, this Zogby Interactive poll was conducted online and therefore not a representative sample of registered voters. Other Zogby Interactive polls overstate the Libertarian candidate's support and are generally extremely inaccurate when compared to telephone based polls that are a more representative sample of the electorate. [15]

September 26: First presidential debate (University of Mississippi)

Moderated by Jim Lehrer, PBS
Senator Barack Obama
Senator John McCain
Location: University of Mississippi
Oxford, Mississippi
Date: September 26, 2008
Wikinews has related news:
McCain and Obama face off in U.S. presidential candidate debate

Although the debate was planned to focus on foreign policy and national security, Lehrer did devote the first half of the debate to the ongoing financial crisis.[16] McCain repeatedly referred to his experience, drawing on stories from the past. Often, he joked of his age and at one point seemed to mock his opponent. Obama tied McCain to what he characterized as Bush Administration mistakes and repeatedly laid out detailed plans. Neither McCain nor Obama broke from talking points, and neither candidate made any major gaffe.[17]


A CBS poll conducted after the debate on independent voters found that 38% felt it was a draw, 40% felt Obama had won, and 22% thought that McCain had won. Voters and analysts agreed that Obama had won on the economy, but that McCain had done better on foreign policy issues, which were the focus of the debate. However, Obama had a more substantial lead on the economy than McCain did on foreign policy.[18] Initial CNN polling reported Obama won the debate overall by a margin of 51–38.[19] A CBS poll of uncommitted voters shows Obama winning 39–24, with 37% of voters undecided.[20] An estimated 52.4 million people watched the debate.[21]

Several pollsters noted in the subsequent week that the public's perception of the debate might have been influenced by John McCain not looking at his opponent during the debate, something many considered disrespectful.[22]

Proposed postponement

On September 24, 2008, McCain announced his intention to suspend his campaign the next day and declared that he wanted to delay the first debate "until we have taken action" on the Paulson financial rescue plan.[23] The reason given for the proposed postponement was so that McCain and Obama could return to Washington, D.C. in order to work on a legislative response to the unfolding economic turmoil. Obama rejected that idea, stating that "this is exactly the time when the American people need to hear from the person who, in approximately 40 days, will be responsible for dealing with this mess."[24] A McCain adviser suggested replacing the Vice Presidential debate with the first Presidential debates and postponing the VP debates to an unspecified later date.[25] Chancellor of the University of Mississippi, Robert Khayat, proposed that Obama hold a townhall meeting with the audience if McCain failed to appear.[26] On the morning of September 26, McCain agreed to participate in the debate, claiming that there had been enough progress in the financial bailout plan.[27] Three days later, however, the House of Representatives defeated the bailout proposal.[28]

October 2: Vice presidential debate (Washington University in St. Louis)

Main article: United States vice-presidential debate, 2008

On October 2, 2008, U.S. vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin held a debate at Washington University in St. Louis. It was moderated by PBS's Gwen Ifill.[29][30]

October 7: Second presidential debate (Belmont University – Nashville townhall)

Moderated by Tom Brokaw, NBC News
Participants: Barack Obama, John McCain
Democratic and Republican
Presidential Nominees
Location: Belmont University
Nashville, Tennessee
Date: October 7, 2008

Moderator Tom Brokaw of NBC opened the debate by stating that since the first debate a lot had changed in the world and for the worse. While Brokaw did not ask the initial questions, he did ask follow-up ones. When the candidates were asked who they would consider as the next Secretary of the Treasury, John McCain said that he might concur with Obama's suggestion of Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett and then went on also to suggest former eBay president Meg Whitman. Barack Obama reiterated the mention of Buffett and said there are also many other qualified Americans. Both candidates said that it is important to choose as Treasury Secretary someone who earns the trust of the American people. The first 5 questions all were related to the economy.

The first Internet question came from a 78-year-old, as Brokaw pointed out, "child of the Depression" about sacrifices that Americans might have to make in the future. McCain responded that spending – besides defense, veterans' affairs, and certain other vital programs that he specified during the first debate – would have to be frozen.

McCain was critical of Obama's support for a $3 million earmark which would have bought a new planetarium projector for Chicago's Adler Planetarium, the oldest planetarium in the Western Hemisphere. The current Zeiss Mark VI projector is 40 years old and no longer supported by its manufacturer, Carl Zeiss AG. The earmark was not approved.[31]


CNN's poll conducted after the debate found that 54% of those surveyed thought that Obama had won and 30% felt McCain had won.[32] In CBS' poll of uncommitted voters, 40% felt Obama had won, 26% thought McCain had won, and 34% said it was a tie.[33]

Several media outlets, especially those on the Internet, reported controversy over McCain referring to Obama as "that one" while discussing energy policy. Many critics of McCain, including the Obama campaign, compared it to the first debate, when McCain did not look at Obama.[34][35] This incident was recreated on Saturday Night Live.[36]

October 15: Third presidential debate (Hofstra University – Hempstead, New York)

Moderated by Bob Schieffer, CBS News
Participants: Barack Obama, John McCain
Democratic and Republican
Presidential Nominees
Location: Hofstra University
Hempstead Village,
Long Island, New York
Date: October 15, 2008

The third presidential debate occured on Wednesday, October 15th at 9:00 PM EST in the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex on Hofstra University campus.[37] The focus was on domestic policy and the economy.[38]

During the debate repeated references were made to Joe Wurzelbacher, aka "Joe the Plumber"[39] Wurzelbacher had earlier confronted Obama at a rally in Toledo, Ohio where Wurzelbacher complained that Obama's tax policy would make it difficult for him to maintain his prosperity if he bought the business that he had been employed at as a plumber.[39] McCain brought up "Joe the Plumber" and Obama and McCain then made statements aimed directly at Wurzelbacher. These events led to subsequent media attention directed at Wurzelbacher.[40][41]

Proposed debates that did not materialize

In November, 2007, the CPD rejected New Orleans as a debate site on grounds that the city had not recovered sufficiently from Hurricane Katrina to handle such an event.[42] The decision was criticized, and various candidates and newspapers urged the commission to hold a debate in New Orleans.[43]

On April 29, 2008, Google and YouTube announced that they would sponsor a U.S. Presidential Forum, to be held on September 18 at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center. It was intended to be hosted by The New Orleans Consortium, which consists of Women of the Storm and the Greater New Orleans Foundation as well as Dillard University, Loyola University New Orleans, Tulane University, and Xavier University.[44] Unlike debates organized by the CPD, the 15% polling threshold was substituted with a threshold for participation at "no less than 10 percent of the voting age population intending to vote, as measured by at least three nationally-recognized public opinion surveys."[45] This non-CPD sanctioned event was cancelled because no candidates or parties agreed to appear.[46]

In June 2008, John McCain proposed 10 town-hall style debates, considered his best format.[47] Obama proposed five total debates between June and Election Day: three traditional debates plus a joint town hall on the economy in July and an "in-depth debate" on foreign policy in August.[48]

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