September 26th, 1960. The first televised presidential debate, signaling a new era where appearances matter more than ever and gaffes, however small, are magnified.
John F. Kennedy, a young senator from Massachusetts, facing off against Vice President Richard Nixon, who's known to be a fierce debater. But on screen, Kennedy looks cool and calm. While Nixon looks uncomfortable, sweating profusely under the hot studio lights.
Nixon flounders under the glare of television for all four debates. Kennedy goes on to win the election.
In 1976, president Gerald Ford makes this blunder in his debate with Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter:
"There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration."
The remark becomes a central theme in Carter's campaign against Ford, and is blamed by many for costing him the election. In 1980, Ronald Reagan is repeatedly attacked by President Carter for his stance on health care.
Governor Reagan as a matter of fact began his political career campaigning around this nation against Medicare.
But reagan wins fans and the election by staying cool.
"There you go again!"
Four years later President Reagan handles attacks on his age during his debate with Walter Mondale with humor.
"I want you to know also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience (laughter/applause)."
In the next election, Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis is asked this controversial question in his debate with vice president George Bush.
"Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?"
"No, I don't Bernard and I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life."
The public sees his answer as cold and dispassionate and that very night his poll numbers drop. During the 1988 Vice Presidential debate, Republican Senator Dan Quayle's comparisons to John F. Kennedy elicits this blistering response from his opponent:
"Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy (applause)."
Body language plays a part in the presidential debate in 1992.
George H.W. Bush deliberately looks at his watch and he pays for it when the audience, and voters, see it as disrespectful.
Body language makes a difference in the debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush as well. Gore sighs over and over again and Bush the underdog surprises by winning the debate and of course the election.
Both President Obama and Governor Romney are seasoned debaters and experts say neither is prone to making major gaffes.
But if there's one thing history's taught us, when it comes to presidential debates expect the unexpected.