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PolitiFact: Chris Christie claims Ronald Reagan won 40 states after trailing Jimmy Carter in polls

The statement

Says Ronald Reagan "was behind in the polls in 1980 going into the debate with Jimmy Carter and then turned around 10 days later and won 40 states."

Chris Christie, in a press conference

The ruling

Mitt Romney may have hit a rough patch on the campaign trail, but New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently suggested a winning debate performance could propel the Republican presidential candidate to victory.

Just like the 1980 debate took Ronald Reagan from trailing in the polls to winning 40 states on Election Day, the governor said.

"Ask Ronald Reagan if he were around, you know, who was behind in the polls in 1980 going into the debate with Jimmy Carter and then turned around 10 days later and won 40 states," Christie, a Republican, said at a news conference. "These debates matter. They're very important."

It's true that Reagan won 44 states in the 1980 election, but it's not entirely accurate for Christie to say Reagan "was behind in the polls" going into the debate with Carter.

Leading up to that Oct. 28, 1980, debate — a week before Election Day — some polls showed Carter with a slight advantage over Reagan, but other polls had Reagan ahead of the president. Still, given the margins of error attached to the polls, the race appeared too close to call, according to various news articles.

In a Gallup poll released the day before the debate, Carter was leading Reagan by 3 percentage points, 45 percent to 42 percent. That poll was based on a sample of 1,100 registered voters, including 800 likely voters.

Another poll done for ABC News and released around the same time offered the exact opposite results: Reagan stood at 45 percent and Carter at 42 percent among likely voters.

An Associated Press/NBC News poll around the same time showed Reagan with a greater lead over Carter. Among likely voters, 42 percent supported Reagan and 36 percent backed Carter.

Still, Reagan's debate performance has been considered a deciding factor in his ultimate victory. "It is my contention that there was significant change in presidential preference by the public starting with the Carter/Reagan debate that accelerated through Election Day," Warren J. Mitofsky, a pollster for CBS News, later wrote.

So Christie is correct that Reagan won a landslide and that people credit, in part, his debate performance. But to say Reagan was behind in the polls isn't as clear-cut. We rate the statement Half True.

Bill Wichert, PolitiFact New Jersey This has been edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com/New Jersey.

PolitiFact: Chris Christie claims Ronald Reagan won 40 states after trailing Jimmy Carter in polls 10/02/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 10:22pm]

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