West Wing Wiki
West Wing Wiki

 "Previously on the West Wing" spoken by C.J.

In a first for NBC's "The West Wing," the Emmy Award-winning series broadcast a live episode featuring a debate between presidential candidates Congressman Matt Santos and Senator Arnold Vinick.  Two live versions were telecast, one for the East Coast and another for the West Coast.  The West Coast version is on the DVDs and the East Coast version is currently unavailable anywhere.

Santos and Vinick arrive at their podiums. Forrest Sawyer, the moderator, recites the rules. During Vinick's initial statement, he suggests dropping the rules, to which Santos agrees.

Vinick gets the first question about immigration. Vinick says it's an enforcement problem. Santos interrupts saying they've already tripled the border patrols, which was proven ineffective.

Vinnick promises to balance the budget. Santos calls him on it via the GOP record.



Senator Vinick and Congressman Santos hold their one "live" debate, moderated loosely by Forrest Sawyer.  They decide to abandon the traditional format and hold an open debate.



Special Guest Stars[]


  • This episode advertised as a "live presidential debate" and was actually telecast live twice, once for the East and West coasts, with limited commercial interruption.  It was also one of the few times actors were allowed to go "off script."
  • This episode contains the fewest main cast members of any episode at two.  Before this episode, The Long Goodbye and Message of the Week has been tied with three.  It also has the smallest overall cast for any episode at seven.
  • The episode was shot "live" so the TV-debate would have the same live debate "flavor" that the real debates have.  This is most notable in the quality of the image on screen, which is more crisp than the image of the other episodes, having been shot using broadcast video camera systems.
  • In an interview with The West Wing Weekly podcast, writer Lawrence O'Donnell revealed that the Netflix version of the episode originally available was edited down by 8 minutes from the original 50 minutes (Netflix later provided the full version of the episode in 2020 before the series was removed from the service's lineup). O'Donnell expressed dismay that Netflix did that because this ruined the emotional arc of the debate and the actors' performances. (The version on iTunes and HBO Max is also 43 minutes long and therefore the editing likely predated Netflix. YouTube and Amazon Prime have the 50 minute version.)


Santos: It's true, Republicans have tried to turn 'liberal' into a bad word.  Well, liberals ended slavery in this country.
Vinick: A Republican president ended slavery.
Santos: Yes, a liberal Republican.  What happened to them?  They got run out of your party.  What did liberals do that was so offensive to the Republican party?  I'll tell you what they did.  Liberals got women the right to vote.  Liberals got African-Americans the right to vote.  Liberals created social security and lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty.  Liberals ended segregation.  Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Liberals created Medicare.  Liberals passed the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act.  What did Conservatives do?  They opposed every one of those programs.  Every one.  So when you try to hurl the word 'liberal' at my feet, as if it were dirty, something to run away from, something that I should be ashamed of, it won't work, Senator, because I will pick up that label and wear it as a badge of honor.


"The West Wing" The Debate (2005)