How Challengers Succeed in Debates

President Gerald Ford, right, and Jimmy Carter face off in the first of their three debates in 1976. Gerald R. Ford Library hide caption

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President Ford's gaffe on Poland dominated the post-debate coverage in 1976. hide caption

Playing Gotcha at the Debates
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Thursday's presidential debate is of crucial importance to Sen. John Kerry. The Democratic challenger has been falling behind President Bush in the polls in recent weeks. NPR News Analyst Cokie Roberts looks back on the debates of successful presidential challengers to see how the one-on-one debate helped them win.

"The thing to keep in mind is the whole affect of the debate has at least as much importance as the words themselves," Roberts tells NPR's Renee Montagne. "People get a sense of how the man stands and smiles and relates to the other man.... There have been some studies that show that [on television] the same person wins with the sound off as with the sound on."

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