President Jimmy Carter: On Campaign Debates, September 23, 1980 (from Public Papers of the President, Carter, 1980, pages 1871 to 1911)

Q. My name is Marc Brown. I'm from Harbor City. Mr. President, the general consensus among the informed voting public is that John Anderson, with a moderate stance on most issues, would draw more votes away from your candidacy than from Ronald Reagan. Is that why you will not debate with Mr. Anderson and Mr. Reagan on the same platform?

THE PRESIDENT. I think your analysis is right. As you know, Anderson and Reagan are both Republicans, and Anderson's voting record the 20 or so years he was in Congress is very similar to the positions that have been staked out by Governor Reagan. In the campaign Anderson, however, has taken some extremely liberal positions on a few highly publicized points. Public Papers of the Presidents, Carter, 1980, p.1872 I have no objection at all to debating both Reagan and Anderson, but the first debate that I want to hold is a one-to-one, man-on-man debate with Governor Reagan. That's what I want, and that's what I determined to get. Marc, I might add one thing. Following that debate with Reagan, man to man, I'll be glad to debate Reagan, Anderson, Clark, Commoner, anyone who has a theoretical opportunity to be elected President. I'm not trying to avoid debates. I'm eager to see them. was Governor of a State. And I campaigned for President for 4 years and got to travel all over this Nation and to learn about its problems and to study what I might do if I should become President. Public

Q. Hi, I'm Noelle Naito, from Costa Mesa. And any time you're in Orange County, my dad says don't hesitate to drop in for dinner, but my mom says think twice, because you'll have to cook and clean. My question is: What was your reaction to the debates last night? Did you find yourself agreeing more with John Anderson or Ronald Reagan? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. How do you know I didn't watch "Midnight Express"? [Laughter] I watched them. I watched the debate, and I thought it was very interesting between the two. I think it would not be appropriate for me to say who I think won or lost. My judgment is that John Anderson's wife thought he won and Ronald Reagan's wife thought he won. [Laughter] And I'm not going to get in an argument between the two wives....I think the debate process is a healthy one. I believe that the debate between myself and President Ford in 1976 was very constructive, not only for me and President Ford but for the country. I believe it is good to have the major emphasis on the debates, at least in the initial stages, between the nominee of the Democratic Party and the nominee of the Republican Party...

...As you know, Congressman Anderson ran as a Republican. He never won a primary, even in his home State. He never won a caucus contest, even in his home State. And after he was defeated or eliminated as a Republican, then he decided to run as an Independent...

... In my judgment it's better for the Nation and for my campaign and for, I believe, Governor Reagan's campaign to have the sharp issues drawn in the minds of the American people between the two candidates who do have a chance to win. And so that's why I look forward to debating Governor Reagan on a one-on-one basis to sharply define those issues between me and him. Following that, as I said earlier when Marc asked me the question, I'll be very glad to debate Anderson as well...

...But I don't want to answer your question by saying who I think did best and who I think did worse. I think I came out okay last night. [Laughter] Thank you very much.

Q. Did the American people learn more about Ronald Reagan as a candidate and John Anderson as a candidate through the debates on Sunday night, do you feel?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. I watched the debate. I was interested in it. It's hard to say what was learned there. My own assessment is they basically repeated their standard campaign statements that they had made for many months.

Q. I think the question being is the debate valuable in form of

THE PRESIDENT. I think so. The debate would be very valuable if Reagan would accept my challenge to debate me. He's not willing to do that. It doesn't help to have a forum with three people or four people or five people on the stage when you just answer--like a "Meet the Press" sort of thing. What is important is for the Democratic nominee, who has a chance to win, and the Republican nominee, who has a chance to win, to debate each other to let the American people know the sharp differences that exist between me and Reagan and between the Republican and Democratic Party...

...To have a third candidate, a Republican, who entered the Republican primaries and caucuses, who never won a single contest, even in his home State, now come as a defeated Republican and seek equal status along with the Democratic and Republican nominees is what I object to.

... After I debate with Reagan, man-to-man, at any place in our country

Q. Do you expect this to happen?

THE PRESIDENT. I hope so--then I will be glad to debate Anderson plus Mr. Clark plus Mr. Commoner and Reagan all together in the kind of a forum arrangement. But I think that wouldn't be nearly so valuable to the American people as a direct debate between the two people that have a chance to be elected President.