Oct. 11, 1992 – Presidential Debate

The Washington University Field House, located in the university’s Athletic Complex, was the site of the first nationally televised three-candidate presidential debate on Oct. 11, 1992 — featuring President George Bush, Gov. Bill Clinton and Reform Party candidate Ross Perot.

Bill Clinton vs. George H. W. Bush vs. Ross Perot

That year, the university had just seven days to transform the hardwood-floor gymnasium of the Field House – the site of the 1904 World Olympics – into a red-carpeted debate hall.

Gov. Bill Clinton (left), President George H.W. Bush (center), and independent candidate Ross Perot at 1992 debate.

Gov. Bill Clinton (left), President George H.W. Bush (center), and independent candidate Ross Perot on stage at 1992 debate. (Washington University Libraries photo)

The 90-minute debate featured President George Bush, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and independent candidate Ross Perot. Moderator Jim Lehrer of the “MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour” and a panel of three journalists posed questions.

Approximately 62.4 million Americans and millions of others worldwide watched the debate on TV as it was telecast live from the Field House in the Athletics Complex. Some 600 people viewed the debate from inside the debate hall; of those, 250 were Washington University students.

More than 550 journalists watched the debate from a media center in the Athletics Complex. ABC-TV provided pooled audio and video for CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox, C-SPAN and PBS and offered 48 audio and 48 video feeds to affiliate stations worldwide.

ABC News producer Justin M. Friedland was so impressed with the execution of the debate that he submitted a letter to Chancellor William Danforth.  “I personally plan to suggest to the parties that they consider holding the conventions on your campus, so you might want to start planning now,” Friedland stated.

Most of the Washington University debate costs were underwritten by a $500,000 gift made by Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. to the university to support its debate through the auspices of the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Local St. Louis corporations and Washington University students, faculty and staff made substantial in-kind contributions of their time and energy to help with many of the operational requirements. Any costs not covered by the CPD or in-kind contributions were covered by an anonymous donation to Washington University restricted for use in the debate.