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The worst debate moments ever

at 11:27 AM ET, 11/10/2011

Obviously, Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s “oops” moment Wednesday night was one of the biggest debate gaffes of all time. But how does it fit into the long history of debate slipups?

Thanks to the Fix community — on the blog, on Twitter and on Facebook — we’ve gathered a list of some of the best of the worst. They’re below. Think we missed one? Add it in the comments — we’ll keep updating.

* 1976 presidential debate: President Gerald Ford declared that Poland was “independent and autonomous” from the U.S.S.R. When pressed, instead of correcting himself, Ford declared, “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.”

* 1984 presidential debate: President Ronald Reagan (R) appeared to completely lose his train of thought in a debate with former Vice President Walter Mondale (D) when talking about the tax code (at about 1:06 into this video). But Reagan later turned questions about his age possibly affecting his performance into a winning line.

* 1984 presidential debate (again): Reagan also gave a long, rambling, closing statement about driving down the Pacific Highway at the end of his second debate with Mondale — a moment Perry himself referenced after his “oops.” Starts at about 1:23.

* 1988 presidential debate: Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis (D) was asked a provocative question: “If Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?” The candidate’s emotionless reiteration of his opposition to the death penalty was another nail in his campaign’s coffin.

* 1988 vice presidential debate: Sen. Dan Quayle (R-Ind.) walked into a stinging insult from Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) by saying he had as much experience as John F. Kennedy had had upon taking over the presidency. Bentsen responded: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” (Of course, Quayle did become VP.)

* 1992 presidential debate: President George H. W. Bush checked his watch while an audience member spoke — then went on to say that he didn't understand her question.

* 1992 vice-presidential debate: Admiral James Stockdale, who was Ross Perot’s running mate, became defined by his opening words in the debate: “Who am I? Why am I here?”

* 2000 presidential debate: Vice President Al Gore awkwardly walked up to Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s podium in one debate, seemingly trying to intimidate but getting only a brief nod from his opponent as he insisted on hearing Bush’s opinion on “the Dingell-Norwood bill.”

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* 2000 New York Senate debate: The Senate campaign of Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.) all but collapsed when he walked over to former First Lady Hillary Clinton’s podium with a piece of paper and demanded she sign a pledge against soft money. Lazio came off as bullying and inappropriate.

* 2006 NM-01 debate: New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid (D) stumbled badly in response to a pretty basic policy question — a gaffe that made it into a devastating ad for victorious Rep. Heather Wilson (R).

* 2008 Democratic primary debate: Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) talks about seeing a UFO. Hey, Jimmy Carter saw one too!

* 2010 Arizona governor’s debate: Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) was silent for nearly ten seconds during her own opening statement, appearing to completely forget her prepared remarks.

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