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US Vice Presidential Debates - A Brief History - 2004-10-02

Tune in to VOA News Now for our live coverage of the second debate of the 2004 U.S. presidential election campaign. You can hear Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards debate critical policy issues. Our program begins at one hour UTC Wednesday. Please join us.

The one debate between U.S. vice presidential nominees will be held in the midwestern state of Ohio on October 5. There is a great deal of interest in this debate between Vice President Dick Cheney and the Democratic party challenger John Edwards.

Vice presidential debates have often been more combative than presidential debates with attacks on opponents' positions, leadership and personalities. The 1988 debate between U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, the Democratic party candidate and U.S. Senator Dan Quayle, the Republican party nominee produced one of the most famous moments in modern debate history.

"I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the Presidency," stated Dan Quayle, to which Lloyd Bentsen responded, "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a fried of mine. Senator you're no Jack Kennedy." Mr. Quayle could only reply, "That was really uncalled for, Senator."

Mr. Quayle lost the debate but was elected to serve as Vice President under George H.W. Bush, the current president's father. Four years later, in 1992 Vice President Quayle took on U.S. Senator Al Gore of the Democratic party and Vice Admiral James Stockdale running for vice president as an Independent.

Admiral Stockdale's somewhat odd debate performance effectively killed the Independents' chances of winning the election. "Who am I? Why am I here?" Admiral Stockdale asked.

This year's vice presidential debate could help determine the outcome of the election. Political analyst Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution, a Washington research group says there's strong interest in this debate.

"Because of [Mr.] Cheney's extreme controversy and extremely visible role in the first three years of the Bush administration, I think people will be watching this debate with special interest," he said.

Analysts say the two debaters will offer contrasting styles: The vice president's professorial but relentless style versus Senator Edward's sharp cross examination style acquired during his years as a trial lawyer.

The debate will be held at Case Western Reserve University in the midwestern state of Ohio, a state important to both political parties. Republicans have never won the White House without carrying Ohio, and only two Democratic Presidential candidates won without claiming Ohio's 20 Electoral College votes.