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Republican Party (United States) presidential primaries, 1976: Wikis


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1972 United States 1980
Republican Party Presidential Primaries, 1976
Gerald Ford.jpg Official Portrait of President Reagan 1981.jpg
Party Republican Republican
Popular vote 5,529,899 4,760,222
Percentage 53.29% 45.88%
GOP Primaries 1976.png
Results of the 1976 Republican Primary Fight. Blue denotes a win by President Gerald Ford and Red denotes a win by Governor Ronald Reagan

The contest for the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 1976 was between just two serious candidates: Gerald Ford, the incumbent President of the United States; and Ronald Reagan, the popular leader of the GOP's conservative wing and the former two-term governor of California. The race for the nomination is the last one by either major American political party to have not been decided by the start of the party convention.




Potential candidates who did not run

Before President Richard Nixon's resignation and the elevation of Gerald Ford to the presidency, a number of politicians were mentioned as possible Republican nominees to be Nixon's successor, most notably his first Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, before he resigned due to a separate scandal[1] or former Governor of Texas and Secretary of the Treasury John B. Connally (reportedly Nixon's favorite).[2]

After Ford's accession, many thought that he would not run in 1976, as he previously promised. Ford's Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller was mentioned as a possible nominee and reportedly seriously considered the idea.[3] Ford, however, decided to seek the nomination, and Rockefeller was replaced as vice-presidential nominee.

Maryland Senator Charles Mathias expressed concerns with the state of his party leading up to the election, specifically its shift further to the right. Referring to the nomination contest between Ford and Ronald Reagan, Mathias remarked that the party leadership was placed "in further isolation, in an extreme—almost fringe—position". On November 8, 1975, he hinted at entering some presidential primary elections to steer the party away from what he saw as a strong conservative trend.[4] Over the next few months, Mathias continued to show signs of entering the election, but never campaigned aggressively and lacked any political organization.[5] Columnist George Will commented that Mathias was "contemplating a race—a stroll, really—for the presidency", in reference to his staid campaign.[6]

After four months of consideration, Mathias decided in March 1976 not to seek the presidency, and asked for his name to be withdrawn from the Massachusetts primary ballot, where it had been added automatically. He had also been considering an independent bid, but said raising money would be too difficult under campaign finance laws. Upon his withdrawal, Mathias stated he would work with the Republican Party in the upcoming elections.[7] However, despite his pledge to support the Republican candidate, Mathias' criticism of the party did not wane, stating that "over and over again during the primaries, I have felt uncomfortably like a member of the chorus in a Greek tragedy".[8]

Mathias' short candidacy did not endear him to the conservative wing of the Maryland Republican Party organization. In June 1976, he lost a vote by state Republicans to determine who would represent Maryland on the platform committee at the 1976 Republican National Convention. Instead, the group chose George Price, a conservative member of the Maryland House of Delegates from Baltimore County. At one point, Mathias was close to being denied attendance to the convention altogether as an at-large delegate, but a last minute compromise ensured all Republican congressional representatives seats as at-large delegates.[8] Mathias maintained a low profile during the convention, and received harsh criticism from some of the conservative delegates from Maryland who attended.[9]

The primaries

Incumbent Ford had been appointed to the vice-presidency after the resignation of Spiro Agnew in 1973 and then elevated to the presidency by the resignation of Richard Nixon in August 1974. His policy goals were often frustrated by Congress, which was heavily Democratic after the 1974 mid-term election. Liberal Democrats were especially infuriated by President Ford's decision to pardon Nixon for any criminal acts he committed or may have committed as part of the Watergate Scandal. Because Ford had not won a national election as President or Vice-President, he was seen by many politicians as being unusually vulnerable for an incumbent President, and as not having a strong nationwide base of support.

Reagan and the conservative wing of the Republican Party faulted Ford for failing to do more to assist South Vietnam (which finally collapsed in April 1975 with the fall of Saigon) and for his signing of the Helsinki Accords, which they took as implicit U.S. acceptance of Soviet domination over Eastern Europe. Conservatives were also infuriated by Ford's negotiations with Panama to hand over the Panama Canal.

Reagan began to criticize Ford openly starting in the summer of 1975, and formally launched his campaign in the autumn. At first it appeared as though Ford would easily win the GOP nomination. Defying expectations, Ford narrowly defeated Reagan in the New Hampshire primary, and then proceeded to beat Reagan in the Florida and Illinois primaries by comfortable margins. By the time of the North Carolina primary in March 1976, Reagan's campaign was nearly out of money, and it was widely believed that another defeat would force Reagan to quit the race. However, assisted by the powerful political organization of U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, Reagan upset Ford in North Carolina and then proceeded to win a string of impressive victories, including Texas, where he carried all twenty-four congressional districts and won all ninety-six delegates at stake in the state's first binding primary. Four other delegates chosen at the state convention went to Reagan and shut out U.S. Senator John G. Tower, who had named to manage the Ford campaign on the convention floor. Ford bounced back to win in his native Michigan, and from there the two candidates engaged in an increasingly bitter nip-and-tuck contest for delegates. By the time the Republican Convention opened in August 1976 the race for the nomination was still too close to call.

Republican National Convention

The 1976 Republican National Convention at Kemper Arena in Kansas City. Vice-Presidential Candidate Bob Dole is on the far left, then Nancy Reagan, former Governor Ronald Reagan is at the center shaking hands with President Gerald Ford, Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller is just to the right of Ford, followed by Susan Ford and First Lady Betty Ford.

The 1976 Republican National Convention was held in Kansas City. As the convention began, Ford was seen as having a slight lead in delegate votes, but still shy of the 1130 delegates he needed to win. Reagan and Ford both competed for the votes of individual delegates and state delegations. In a bid to woo moderate Northern Republicans, Reagan shocked the convention by announcing that if he won the nomination, Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania, a moderate, would be his running mate. The move backfired, however, as few moderates switched to Reagan, while many conservative delegates were outraged. The key state of Mississippi, which Reagan needed, narrowly voted to support Ford; it was believed that Reagan's choice of Schweiker had led Clarke Reed, Mississippi's Chairman, to switch to Ford. Ford then won the nomination, narrowly, on the first ballot. He chose Senator Robert Dole of Kansas as his running mate. After giving his acceptance speech, President Ford asked Reagan to come and say a few words to the convention; Reagan proceeded to give an eloquent address which virtually overshadowed Ford's speech.

Primary results by state

Gerald Ford Ronald Reagan
January 27 Iowa 45% 43%
February 24 New Hampshire 49% 48%
March 2 Massachusetts 61% 34%
March 2 Vermont 84% 15%
March 9 Florida 53% 47%
March 16 Illinois 59% 40%
March 23 North Carolina 46% 52%
April 6 Wisconsin 55% 44%
April 27 Pennsylvania 93% 5%
May 1 Texas 33% 66%
May 4 Georgia 32% 68%
May 4 Indiana 49% 51%
May 11 Nebraska 45% 54%
May 11 West Virginia 57% 43%
May 18 Maryland 58% 42%
May 18 Michigan 65% 34%
May 25 Arkansas 35% 63%
May 25 Idaho 25% 74%
May 25 Kentucky 51% 47%
May 25 Nevada 29% 66%
May 25 Oregon 50% 46%
May 25 Tennessee 50% 49%
June 1 Montana 35% 63%
June 1 Rhode Island 65% 31%
June 1 South Dakota 44% 51%
June 8 California 35% 65%
June 8 New Jersey 100% 0%
June 8 Ohio 55% 45%

Convention tally


Vice-presidential nomination

President Ford chose Senator Bob Dole of Kansas as his running mate. the Republican National Convention delegate tally for the vice presidential nomination, was[11]:


  1. ^ Online NewsHour: Remembering Spiro Agnew - September 18, 1996
  2. ^ Handbook of Texas Online - CONNALLY, JOHN BOWDEN, JR
  3. ^ Peter Collier, David Horovitz The Rockefellers: An American Dynasty (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976) ISBN 0-03-008371-0
  4. ^ Baker, Donald P (November 9, 1975). "Mathias Says He May Run In Presidential Primaries". The Washington Post. p. 21. 
  5. ^ Peterson, Bill (February 8, 1976). "The Quiet Presidential Campaign". The Washington Post. p. 21. 
  6. ^ Will, George (January 25, 1976). "Sen. Mathias' 'Stroll'". The Washington Post. p. 131. 
  7. ^ Peterson, Bill (March 3, 1976). "Mathias Joins Almost-Rans, Will Not Seek Presidency". The Washington Post. p. A3. 
  8. ^ a b Peterson, Bill (June 26, 1976). "Dissident Mathias Denied GOP Platform Committee Post". The Washington Post. p. A5. 
  9. ^ Logan, Harold J (August 19, 1976). "Mathias' Convention Role Is Low-Key". The Washington Post. p. 14. 
  10. ^ Our Campaigns - US President - R Convention Race - Aug 16, 1976
  11. ^ Our Campaigns - US Vice President - R Convention Race - Aug 16, 1976


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