In 1984 Dartmouth College, and the newly opened Nelson A. Rockefeller Center, hosted its first presidential debate on Sunday, January 15, six weeks prior to the the New Hampshire primary. The candidates were Senator John Glenn (D-OH), Senator Alan Cranston (D-CA), Senator Ernest Hollings (D-SC), former Senator George McGovern (D-SD), Senator Gary Hart (D-CO), former Vice President Walter Mondale, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew.
The Democratic Presidential Debate was the first-ever presidential talk-show debate with three hours of live television on PBS and eight candidates reaching some 9 million viewers in a nationally aired event. The news office received 300 applications for press credentials (source: Newsweek, Jan. 30, 1984). Ted Koppel of ABC News led a discussion with the candidates, followed by an audience Q&A led by syndicated talk-show host Phil Donahue. According to the San Francisco Examiner, the novel format “seemed to work as ABC-TV newsman and Nightline host Ted Koppel and talk show host Phil Donahue kept things lively.” Newsweek’s Howard Fineman called the debate “Donahue at Dartmouth.”
Sen. Glenn and former Vice President Mondale provided most of the sparks as Glenn accused Mondale of campaigning on a platform of “gobbledygook.” Mondale leapt to his feet and tried to interrupt, shouting the old Senate expression: “Point of personal privilege!”
The candidates drew lots out of a hat that was owned by famous Dartmouth alumnus Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, to determine the on-stage seating arrangement on the stage in Spaulding Auditorium in Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center for the Arts.
The broadcast was produced by New Hampshire Public Television and WGBH. One of the unexpected problems during the debate was the break-up of AT&T, which had been divided into regional providers on January 1. Members of the press wanted private lines installed in the press room. Howard Coffin, associate director of Dartmouth’s news service, said “New England Telephone has been extremely cooperative but we couldn’t have caught them at a worse time.
Undecided New Hampshire democrats doubled from 15 percent to 30 percent after the debate. After the debate, Mondale led the polls with 54 percent. This election sparked Mondale’s famous put-down of Hart after one of their debates: “Where’s the beef?