Even though the 1980 Presidential Election between former California Governor Ronald Reagan and President Jimmy Carter turned into a landslide, with Ron Reagan winning something like 47-49 Sates, and with around 56% of the popular vote. and with Senate Republicans picking up eleven seats and winning control of the Senate for the first time since 1952, (these stats coming from doing too much research) I now have some of them locked in my memory not that I'm going to release any. But it didn't have to turn out that way. The first Presidential Debate between Ron Reagan and Jimmy Carter, was an opportunity for Governor Reagan to convince voters especially Independents, that he's not crazy.
Reagan, not looking to go to war with the Soviet Union, or anything like that. That he was a cool in the political sense, calm intelligent man that had core classical conservative beliefs. But that conservatism wasn't crazy and neither was he. And it was an opportunity for President Carter, really his last opportunity to show Americans, when this election was still close and have a chance to beat Reagan and put himself in position of winning the election. By giving Americans an alternative vision of where he would want to take America in a 2nd term. The difference between front running politicians and underdog politicians when it comes to political debates, is that the frontrunner tends to take a positive approach to the debate and just tries to sell themselves. "This is what I'll do if you elect, or reelect me."
The underdog politician, the one who's trailing in the election, tends to take the opposite approach. And decides, "the voters clearly don't like me and so what I have to do, is to convince voters that they should like my opponent even less." And then win the election by default and thats exactly what this debate had. Ron Reagan was clearly in cruise control and tried to make this debate a referendum. "You should vote for me because I will take this country in a different direction, much different from where we are going now, which is clearly not working." Whereas President Carter was on the attack almost the whole debate and trying to make it about Ron Reagan. The famous line in this debate is of course Ron Reagan saying in his closing statement, "saying are you better of today, then you were four years ago. Is the cost of living lower, are jobs more secure, have the taxes gone up, or down?" That sort of thing. People clearly didn't feel better off in 1980 than they did in 1976 and Reagan was successful in making this election a referendum on President Carter.