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History of Presidential Debates at Dartmouth

1984: Democratic Debate

Candidates draw their seat assignments from a hat owned by Daniel Webster, Dartmouth Class of 1801, prior to the Democratic debate on January 15, 1984. From left to right: Former Gov. Reubin Askew, Fla.; Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; Rep. Gillis Long, D-La. (holding hat); Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo. (behind Long); Director of the Rockefeller Center and Dartmouth government Professor Frank Smallwood '51; former Vice President Walter Mondale; and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. (photo courtesy of the Dartmouth College Library)

Date: Sunday, January 15, 3 p.m. (six weeks prior to the New Hampshire primary)

Candidates: Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio; Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif.; Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C.; former Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D., Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo.; former Vice President Walter Mondale; Rev. Jesse Jackson, and former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew.

Moderators: Ted Koppel of ABC News led a discussion with the candidates, followed by an audience Q&A led by syndicated talk-show host Phil Donahue. According to the San Francisco Examiner, the novel format "seemed to work as ABC-TV newsman and Nightline host Ted Koppel and talk show host Phil Donahue kept things lively."

Broadcast outlets: Produced by New Hampshire Public Television and WGBH.

Location: Spaulding Auditorium in Dartmouth's Hopkins Center for the Arts.

  • Dartmouth's 1984 Democratic Presidential Debate was the first-ever presidential talk-show debate with three hours of live television on PBS and eight candidates reaching some 9 million viewers in a nationally aired event. (source: Newsweek, Jan. 30, 1984)
  • The candidates drew lots out of a hat that was owned by famous Dartmouth alumnus Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, to determine the on-stage seating arrangement.
  • Jesse Jackson gave a surprise lecture on campus to a packed crowd in Webster Hall (now Rauner Library) the night before the debate.
  • Sen. Glenn and former Vice President Mondale provided most of the sparks as Glenn accused Mondale of campaigning on a platform of "gobbledygook." Mondale leapt to his feet and tried to interrupt, shouting the old Senate expression: "Point of personal privilege!"
  • One of the unexpected problems during the debate was the break-up of AT&T, which had been divided into regional providers on January 1. Members of the press wanted private lines installed in the press room. Howard Coffin, associate director of Dartmouth's news service, said "New England Telephone has been extremely cooperative but we couldn't have caught them at a worse time."
  • The news office received 300 applications for press credentials.
  • Undecided New Hampshire democrats doubled from 15 percent to 30 percent after the debate.
  • After the debate, Mondale led the polls with 54 percent.
  • Newsweek's Howard Fineman called the debate "Donahue at Dartmouth."

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Last updated: 10/09/11