Hello and welcome to another edition of the presidential election series, as I’ll be discussing the election of 1976, a lot has changed since the previous election with a very unpopular Republican president taking on a very unlikely challenger from the Democrats… So with that all said, let’s get into it.
Election of 1976; The End of the Nixon Administration
Following his landslide victory in the 1972 election, President Richard Nixon appeared to have things all well and good both from a domestic and foreign policy perspective, sadly though the seeds for his political demise were already set in motion before election day ’72 with things really starting to spiral out of control in the following years.
The trouble began in June of 1972 following the discovery of five men breaking into the Democratic Party’s National Headquarters at the Watergate Office Complex with the goal of stealing information on the Democrats through bugging and record equipment. While the investigation and later arrest of these five men would make waves on the national news, it wasn’t enough to hurt Nixon’s chances of winning but that would change in 1973.
In 1973, various members of Nixon’s administration were either dismissed or fired which led to more speculation regarding the president’s role in the what would eventually be called “The Watergate Scandal”. Cue a Supreme Court Decision in July of that year which said that Nixon had to give over all audio recordings he had under his disposal as they were needed for the ongoing Federal and Senate investigations.
Ultimately is was revealed that Nixon not only knew about the Watergate break-ins but even approved of it which lead to many in the Senate almost hitting the President with impeachment charges, but the charges never went forward as Richard Nixon announced on August 8th 1974 that he would “Resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow”. Making Richard Milhous Nixon the first and so far only president in United States History to resign from office.
Election of 1976; Gerald Ford: The New President
Since John Tyler’s unexpected rise to the presidency in 1840 following the death of William Henry Harrison, the un-written law of presidential succession saw the VP become the new Commander-in-Chief and this occassion was no different, the thing is though 10 months before Nixon stepped down from the job, his original VP, Spiro Agnew became the second Vice President to resign from office following corruption charges made against him.
This resulted in Nixon needing to find a new VP thanks to newly passed 25th Amendment which among others officially states that the VP can become president if the previous person died or resigned from office while also adding a new VP to the adminsration. Nixon would go on to chose Gerald Ford who was the GOP’s Senate Minority Leader as his new Vice President of course once Nixon resigned, Ford became the 38th President in U.S. History and he choose Liberal Republican and former Governor of New York, Nelson Rockfeller as his new Vice President.
Ford’s presidency was problematic from the start as the country was having a shortage of oil, the Cold War continued to rage on, the economy wasn’t doing so well with it being in the worse shape since the Great Depression and U.S. troops were being pulled out of Vietnam after years of fighting led to a devasting defeat for America.
As bad as that was Ford’s luck would get worse and he not only faced two assassination attempts in a matter of weeks, but he also made the decision to pardon Richard Nixon of all crimes regarding the Watergate Scandal with Ford believing that the country needed to move on from ‘Tricky Dick’ before dealing with the other issues, so he pardoned Nixon to get him out of the media and American people’s minds, however this decision would see his poll numbers taking a massive nose drive for which the president was unable to really recover from.
Election of 1976; Regan vs. Ford
With President Ford having to see his popularity plummet after pardoning Nixon in addition to the other problems he faced in office things somehow worse when on December 12th 1974, Ford received a phone call from Ronald Regan the former actor turned politician who had spent much of the late 60’s and 1970’s as the Governor of California plus he was a leading figure in the Conservative wing of the Republican Party.
Regan calls Ford to inform him that he will be challenging him in the up-and-coming GOP primaries for the nomination with the Republican Party shifting away from the liberal/Eastern Establishment kind of politics and instead moving more to the far right since the defeat of Barry Goldwater in the election of 1964.
Many expected Regan to use his likable charm and political experience to win over the people, however Ford was able to you use Regan’s previous proposals which would hurt many Northern states to win a number of primaries; Regan decided to use similar tactics on Ford and after winning the North Carolina primary, Regan began to reclaim some momentum which helped him win more primaries both in the West and the South.
Ultimately, by the time of Republican National Convention it was a back-and-forth race for the most delegates between Ford and Reagan thankfully for the GOP the decision was made on the first ballot as Gerald Ford narrowly beat Reagan to win his party’s nomination and due to Nelson Rockfeller looking to step away from politics, Ford chose Bob Dole who the Senator from Kansas as his running mate for the election.
Election of 1976; The Democratic Nominees
With the fallout of Watergate, Nixon’s resignation and their success in the ’74 midterm elections, The Democratic Party looked poised to reclaim the White and there were plenty of candidates running:
- Jerry Brown- Governor of California
- Henry Jackson- Senator from Washington
- Mo Udell- U.S. Representative from Arizona
- Frank Church- Senator from Idaho
- George Wallace- Governor of Alabama
- Jimmy Carter- Governor of Georgia
At first, Jackson was seen as the front runner for the party’s nomination until he made the mistake of not competing in the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary which opened the door for someone like Jimmy Carter to built momentum and garner media attention as a result.
The race quickly went down to Carter, Udell, Jackson and Wallace with things becoming unsure as to who would get the nomination, but by the time of the New York, Wisconsin and Pennyslvania primaries the peanut farm turn Governor of Georgia defeated his comtemporaries to become the Democratic Party’s nominee for president.
When the time came to nominate Jimmy Carter at the Democratic National Convention in Madison Square Garden he won on the first ballot and he chose Walter Mondale as his running mate. Walter was a fresh faced Senator from Minnesota and a protégé for former VP and presidential candidate, Hubert H. Humphrey.
Election of 1976; Campaign Strategies and Political Gaffes
With Ford and Carter winning their party’s nomination, the 1976 presidential election officially began; Both men had two distinct plans when it came to campaign strategies: Ford attempted to give off a sense of leadership and experience in government while also working diligently in the White House, a method commonly referred to as the ‘Rose Garden Strategy’.
Jimmy Carter ran on the fact that he was a ‘DC Outsider’ and his campaign went with the idea of ‘Restoring Honor & Integrity back to Government’ as many Americans were still resentful of Ford’s decision’s in office with the biggest being his choice to pardon Richard Nixon following Watergate.
For much of the election, Carter was leading with him having 33% advantage in the polls, but things began to fall apart when Carter gave an interview to Playboy Magazine in an attempt to come off as average guy, but instead it did more harm than good when he talked about “Committed adultery in my heart.” and “looked on a lot of women with lust.” ; This led Carter’s number tanking with many key demographics including evangelicals and women voters.
Election of 1976; The Debates/More Political Gaffes
Carter’s Playboy Scandal comes just around the time of the presidential debates (marking the first one since 1960); Despite problems arising due a audio malfuction with the microphones of both candidates which lead to some awkward moments of silence for almost half an hour, the biggest blunders came when it came to candidates’ answers and performances in the debates.
In the first debate, Jimmy Carter refused to pratice ahead of time and this lead to his showing being less than stellar to put it mildily with Carter himself calling “The Worse 20 Minutes of My Life”.
By the second debate, it was Ford who made a mistake when asked a question regarding the Domination of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe; Now Ford had actually prepare for this time of question with his intially answer being: “The Policy of this government is to recognize the independence, the sovereignty, the anatomy of all Eastern European countries.”
Unfortunately, when the time came to answer the question in front a viewing audience Ford instead said the following: “There is No Soviet Domination of Eastern Europe…and There Never Will Be Under Ford Administration”. which just made the president sounding like someone who is completely out of touch with foreign affairs.
In fact the blunders didn’t just end with presidential debates as even the Vice Presidential debate saw one of the candidates make a fatal mistake when Ford’s running mate, Bob Dole mentioned that America’s involvement in conflicts like World War One, World War Two, The Korean War and The Vietnam War were done by the Democratic presidents in charged at the time…and this comment actually harmed the Republican Party Ticket.
Yet despite all of this, the race was continued to be tight with Carter ahead by six points until the November the 1st when it’s Ford leading ahead of Carter in the polls by just one percentage point, but in order to see who truly won this race let’s go to the results.
Election of 1976; The Results
By the time of election day Jimmy Carter was declared winner, becoming the 39th President in American History. Carter received 297 electoral votes to Gerald Ford’s 240 and at least one faithless electoral in the state of Washington voted for Ronald Reagan.
Although Ford won more states than Carter (Ford carried 27 states to Carter’s 23 plus DC), he still lost both in the Electoral Vote but also in the Popular Vote with Carter getting 50.1% and Ford winning just 48% making this the closest presidential election since 1916.
Carter became the first Democrat since JFK to carry states in the Deep South and the first one since LBJ to hold a majority of Southern states in an election with this being the last time a number of states voted for a Democrat and when some of them did it wouldn’t be until 1992 or 2008.
And that was the 1976 Presidential Election, Jimmy Carter has become the first Democrat elected to the White since 1964 and now his got to deal with the problems plaguing the country both at home and especially those aboard…but more on those in the next article.