During every election year in the United States, presidential candidates from the Republican and Democratic parties square off in a series of debates. Known simply as the Presidential debates, these discussions are taken very seriously by the candidates and voters alike. In fact, since 1960, Presidential debates have always been televised along with being broadcast on radio.
Venue And Sponsorship
The venue for these events is usually at a large auditorium at some university. Logistics like venues, debate moderators, etc are mostly handled by nonpartisan organizations. For many years, the League of Women Voters (LWV) sponsored these debates. However, after their withdrawal in 1988, the Republicans and Democrats came together to form the Commission of Presidential Debates (CPD).
While the CPD continues to sponsor presidential debates even now, there's been a lot of criticism directed towards it. Most observers claim that debate sponsorship should be handled by a nonpartisan—rather than a bipartisan—organization. As a result, in 2004, the Citizens' Debate Committee (CDC) was formed to bring back control of the presidential debate to a non-partisan body.
Unlike most debates, presidential debates mostly don't have opening statements. They start off with a coin toss that decides who answers the first question—posed either by the moderator or an audience member, depending on the predetermined format.
Once a question is asked, a candidate can take no more than two minutes to answer it. And once they are done, their opponent gets one minute for their rebut. However, subject to the moderator's discretion, the candidates may get up to 30 extra seconds for additional discussion.
While the debates don't solely determine the viability of a candidate, they go a long way in giving undecided voters a better idea of what a candidate is all about. And since they are mostly held in and around October—just a month before the Presidential elections—they do play a pivotal role in shaping voting trends.
Along with three Presidential debates, which are now the norm, there is also a Vice Presidential debate. This also takes place under guidelines similar to the presidential debates, and it features the Vice Presidential nominees from both parties—Republican and Democratic.
Prior to the 2008 elections, Democratic nominee, Barack Obama and Republican nominee, John McCain took part in one of the most engaging—and important—Presidential races in recent history. During the race, their three debates went a long way in determining the front-runner among them. Having said that, the final nail in the McCain campaign's coffin was the Vice Presidential debate, where Joe Biden (Democrat) didn't even have to try to show down a clueless Sarah Palin.
This year, Obama squared off against Republican nominee Mitt Romney in another pitched battle for Presidency of the US.