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  Mondale-Kennedy-Brown Primary Debate
TitleMondale-Kennedy-Brown Primary Debate
Start Date/TimeJanuary 12, 1980 05:00pm
End Date/TimeJanuary 12, 1980 08:00pm
Last ModifiedChronicler - September 17, 2010 08:22pm
DescriptionThe only Democratic presidential primary debate of 1980 was held in Iowa on 1/12/1980, nine days before the Iowa caucuses.

When Sen. Kennedy began his insurgent challenge to Pres. Carter, it appeared that Kennedy would easily win the first delegates to be chosen (the Iowa caucus). An Iowa poll on 8/15/1979 showed Kennedy with a 49-26% lead over the President [NYT 11/2/1979]. The President's support increased dramatically both in Iowa and around the nation when Iranians took American diplomats hostage. President Carter cancelled all his campaign appearances to focus on the hostages. The day after the hostages were taken, Carter won a smashing 71% of the vote in the Iowa Straw Poll [NYT 11/6/1979]. No one believed that the poll represented accurately the opinions of the Democratic faithful in Iowa, but it did point to the dramatic rise in Carter's strength in the state. Kennedy and Gov. Jerry Brown were able to campaign full-time without the President in Iowa to defend himself, but in fact Carter continued to gain ground. A scientific poll four weeks later showed Carter and Kennedy tied at 40% each.

A new poll was taken early in 1980, with the results publicized the day before the only presidential primary debate among the Democrats in 1980. The poll showed that Carter had moved into a 57-25% lead in Iowa. The poll also showed that 53% of Iowa Democrats approved his embargo of grain to the Soviet Union and that 60% of Iowa Democrats approved his handling of the hostage situation. The numbers were such a large shift that they seemed implausible [NYT 1/12/1980].

Quick Facts
When: evening of 1/12/1980
Where: Black Hawk County Democratic Club, Waterloo, Iowa
Panel: none
Audience size: 600
Topics: Iranian hostages, grain embargo

Transcript: not available.

Format: Sen. Kennedy, Gov. Brown, and VP Mondale each were given 20 minutes to speak; no rebuttals or questions.

Setting: The candidates sat on a dais where they had eaten a meal with the Black Hawk Democrats. They each stood at the table for their 20-minute presentations.

VP Mondale appeared on behalf of President Carter.

Sen. Kennedy complained about Mondale representing the President. He said "The people of Iowa should have the opportunity to hear the President... We are facing an enormous, serious question about the nature of our foreign policy." He opposed Carter's move to stop shipments of grain to the Soviet Union (a result of the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan), a policy stand that was wildly popular in Iowa. He said that the embargo was hurting Iowa farmers more than it was hurting the Soviet Union. Kennedy also provided the evening's single humorous event. As an unofficial response to Carter partisans who questioned Kennedy's patriotism, Kennedy gave Mondale a shirt with the colors of the New England Patriots (a football team). The shirt read "Fritz, No. 2" on the back. Kennedy said in jest that he was giving it "from one patriot to another."

Gov. Brown was unable to re-establish his floundering campaign. For the most part, he agreed with Kennedy on the main issues of the evening. He believed that Carter was unable to provide a well-considered and coherent foreign policy, instead using an "instant response" to the latest stimuli.

VP Mondale gave Kennedy and Brown a run for their money. Having the advantage of the recent poll numbers, Mondale said that "the President's handling of the Iran hostage crisis is masterful." Mondale believed that the grain embargo represented a "test of Presidential character... No one in this room can say Jimmy Carter embargoed grain because he thought it would be popular in Iowa..." While Carter was making difficult decisions for America, Kennedy and Brown were issuing "harsh press releases" and "strong adjectives," neither of which were "in the interests of this nation and the interests of civilization." [NYT 1/13/1980]

President Carter's decision to forgo campaigning in Iowa presented a major challenge to his chances of winning in Iowa, but by the time of the debate it was clear that he was coasting to an easy victory. Mondale's performance on his behalf helped solidify the Democrats behind him. Kennedy and Brown pressed forward, and though Kennedy gained some traction in the following week, Carter placed first in the caucus with 59% to 31% for Kennedy and 9% for Brown.

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