On Sept. 29, Cleveland will be the host of the first 2020 presidential argument between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. It has been 40 years given that Cleveland hosted a presidential argument, and it was one of the most remarkable ever– the fight between opposition Ronald Reagan and incumbent Jimmy Carter.
I was a young press reporter for the Troy (Ohio) Daily News at the time, and I was fortunate sufficient to cover the argument, which took place one week before the election. It was a most memorable night.
This is the Tales from the Path column I composed in January 2018 about the debate. Hope you enjoy it.
— Howard Wilkinson
It’s rarely in a political reporter’s career that you find yourself in a space where you actually witness the minute an American president’s chances of being re-elected increase in a puff of smoke.
I was in such a space on October 28, 1980, at the old Convention Center Music Hall in Cleveland, for the only head-to-head debate between Republican Ronald Reagan and Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter.
And, to this day, I think that dispute sealed Carter’s fate.
There are a variety of factors I believe that, however the concept one was a four-word line provided by Reagan. 4 words. Poof! A second term for Jimmy Carter was gone. Plus an unforgettable but longer sentence delivered by Reagan in his closing remarks.
More on that later.
I was a 27-year-old reporter for the little Troy Daily News in Miami County, Ohio, a small-town newspaper with a flow of about 11,000 in those days.
The TDN, as we called it, was small but mighty. In my 5 years there, they never was reluctant to invest money sending me out on the roadway to cover state and nationwide politics.
So when I went to the editors and suggested that I go to Cleveland to cover the argument, they didn’t think twice. Go forth, boy!
I scrambled to get credentialed for the event and even managed to find a hotel space in downtown Cleveland, a couple of blocks from the Convention Center. That was no mean accomplishment, given the fact that thousands of journalists and politicos were streaming into Cleveland for the second Battle of Lake Erie.
The dispute was to take place on Tuesday, October 28– exactly one week from Election Day– and the surveys were all over the map. Some surveys provided Carter a minor edge; others favored Reagan by a little margin.
It was shaping up to be a close election.
The 90-minute Cleveland dispute was the only face-to-face meeting between Carter and Reagan.
The month previously, Carter had decreased to take part in an argument that consisted of Congressman John Anderson of Illinois, who was running as an Independent.
So, on Sept. 21, Reagan and Anderson met in Baltimore for a completely unmemorable argument.
The only argument that actually mattered was the one to be held in Cleveland’s 3,000-seat Convention Center Music Hall.
Ordinarily, a lot of press reporters covering a presidential (or vice governmental) argument are not in the hall itself, but in a make-shift press room, watching a TELEVISION feed. And, these days, in another large room close by are lots of high profile surrogates for both candidates, offered for interviews on why their candidate won and the other prospect lost.
I drove up to Cleveland from Troy on Monday. I required to get there early to pick up credentials and have a look at the work conditions.
I didn’t have to fret about work conditions quite. The Troy Daily News was an afternoon paper, which suggested that I did not have to file an analysis story till about 10 a.m. the next day. In 1980, there were no news sites that required consistent feeding, 24/7.
So I really wasn’t feeling any pressure.
On Monday afternoon, I was walking in a lakeside park when I ran into an old good friend from my days numerous years earlier at the Painesville Telegraph, a Lake County paper about 22 miles east of downtown Cleveland.
He told me he had an additional ticket to the debate hall and provided it to me. I jumped on it. I couldn’t see any factor to be watching it on TELEVISION in a separate space when I could be there.
So, on the night of the debate, I used the ticket to get in the Music Hall, and sat somewhere near the middle of the crowd. All I had was my press reporter’s note pad and a couple of trustworthy pens; in those days, that was all the equipment I needed.
The mediator of the argument was Howard K. Smith of ABC News, an excellent choice to keep things rolling and on track. The panel of journalists doing the questioning included Barbara Walters of ABC, Harry Ellis from the Christian Science Screen, William Hilliard of the Portland Oregonian, and Marvin Stone of U.S. News & & World Report.
There was a big audience viewing, from coast to coast.
The dispute was rolling along, relatively ho-hum, up until Carter injected a head-scratching line into a long conversation of nuclear weapons.
I believe to close out this discussion, it would be better to take into perspective what we’re speaking about, Carter said. I had a conversation with my child, Amy, a few days ago, before I came here, to ask her what the most crucial concern was. She stated she thought nuclear weapons and the control of nuclear arms.
Amy Carter, by the way, was 13 years of ages at the time.
The audience in the hall had been admonished by Smith at the start not to praise or reveal approval or displeasure throughout the dispute.
But I distinctly heard some groans of shock when the president of the United States informed the country he consulted his 13-year-old child on nuclear policy.
But then came the knock-out blow.
Carter was making the argument that Reagan, if chosen, would try to cut Medicare– a concern that would, no doubt, rile up older Americans. And older Americans vote.
Reagan entered into his Old Hollywood Actor mode, placed on an exasperated appearance, shook his head, as soon as, and provided the line that is most kept in mind from that argument:
There you go once again.
There was nothing the president might say. You might feel the air draw out of the room. Individuals in the audience were offering each other understanding looks: Reagan 1, Carter 0.
Only four words, but four words individuals would remember.
And, then, in his closing statement, Reagan provided another extraordinary line:
Are you better off than you were 4 years earlier?
In a nation that had actually struggled in recent years from runaway inflation and the energy crisis and terrorism abroad, you could just see individuals all over the nation, enjoying on tv, crying No!
Reagan 2, Carter 0. Video game, set and match.
Individuals poured out of the hall after the argument in the stiff wind off Lake Erie, all talking about what they had actually seen and heard. I interviewed numerous; and was hard-pressed to find people who believed the president had actually triumphed.
Being a 27-year-old without any good sense whatsoever, I then entered into my car and made the long, late night drive back to Troy– about 215 miles.
I went directly to the Troy Daily News workplace and wrote my analysis, which came to what I though was an obvious conclusion: that Jimmy Carter had taken a significant hit on that phase in Cleveland.
I was surprised the next day to see that the Plain Dealer, the early morning newspaper in Cleveland, had a totally various take. Its front page banner heading read, Carter and Reagan trade punches however both on their feet at the bell.
A week later on, when the votes were counted, it appears I was closer to the mark. Reagan won the popular vote in a landslide; and, in the Electoral College, won 44 states and 489 electoral votes to 49 for Carter.
It’s why I have constantly said that election can switch on the smallest things.
Sometimes all it takes is 4 words.
— Howard Wilkinson is 91.7 WVXU’s senior political expert. His “Tales from the Trail” column appears on wvxu.org every Friday and offers a behind-the-scenes look at Wilkinson’s 45 years of covering the projects, characters, scandals and organisation of politics on a local, state and nationwide level.Source: maysville-online. com