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One night only for Reagan vs. Carter, 39 years ago

Brad Williams



President Jimmy Carter and Republican challenger Ronald Reagan met in just one televised debate in 1980, in Cleveland one week before the election. Third-party candidate John Anderson was not invited, but one network allowed him to give his own answers during a replay of the earlier debate. The debate is remembered for Carter being ridiculed after mentioning his teenage daughter Amy’s concerns about nuclear war, and for Reagan’s remarks “There you go again,” and “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” The La Crosse Tribune endorsed Reagan, by responding, “We are not.”

Carter lost the election, as did many Democratic Senators, including Wisconsin’s Gaylord Nelson. Third District Democrat Al Baldus was voted out after three terms in Congress, being replaced by Osseo Republican Steve Gunderson.

State Senator Paul Offner of La Crosse was running for a second term, and was accused of behaving rudely at a debate with Republican challenger Bill Riley. Democrat Offner was accused of making fun of Riley behind his back at a UW-L forum, and at least one letter to the editor said voters had been fooled for years into thinking Offner was a good guy. Offner did win re-election.

Viterbo got a new president that fall. Robert Gibbons was sworn in late in October as the sixth president of La Crosse’s Catholic college, succeeding Father J. Thomas Finucan.

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