Richard Nixon, una vez reelegido en 1972, había planificado su sucesión para el 76 en la persona de su Secretario del Tesoro, y antiguo Gobernador de Texas, John Connally, un popular ex demócrata reconvertido en republicano, que a los ojos de Nixon era un perfecto reflejo de la degradación del Partido Demócrata y el avance del GOP entre la clase media y en los estados del Sur. Pero los sueños de Nixon se rompieron en el momento mismo en que su Presidencia cayó en desgracia. El Watergate trastocó todos los planes.
La dimisión de Nixon había dejado la Presidencia en manos de un hombre que nunca mostró grandes ambiciones, Gerald Ford. Antiguo Líder de la Minoría en la Cámara de Representantes, Ford nunca había competido en unas elecciones fuera del 5º Distrito de Michigan al que representó en el Congreso durante décadas.
Un año antes de la elección del 76, aún muchos expertos creían que Ford no se desviaría de los asuntos de la gestión diaria de la nación para involucrarse en una incierta aventura electoral. Aparentemente no tenía apoyos suficientes dentro del partido y la carrera del 76 no parecía una experiencia agradable para un republicano, tras el desprestigio al que se vio sometido el partido en 1974.
Pero la economía pareció mejorar levemente y esto decidió al Presidente Ford. Se acabaron sus vacilaciones y anunció su intención de aspirar a un nuevo mandato. Pero el camino no sería tan sencillo como pudiera suponerse, tratándose de un Presidente en funciones.
Muchos republicanos, especialmente aquellos no asociados a la "sociedad política de Washington", no estaban dispuestos a dejar pasar la oportunidad que planteaba el escenario de un partido en horas bajas, para plantear su propia alternativa. Encontraron a su hombre en la figura de Ronald Reagan. Un ex actor que contaba con la experiencia de dos exitosos mandatos como Gobernador del estado más populoso de la Unión, y con el atractivo de encarnar el espíritu libre propio del hombre del Oeste.
Fuentes: Wikipedia, Union Leader y Reagan's Revolution
(...) Incumbent President Ford, appointed to the vice-presidency after the resignation of Spiro Agnew and then elevated to the presidency by the resignation of Richard Nixon, was the only U.S. president never to have been elected president or vice president. His policy goals were frustrated by Congress, heavily Democratic after the 1974 mid-term election and infuriated by his decision to pardon Nixon for any criminal acts he committed or may have committed as part of the Watergate scandal.
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 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 openly criticize Ford starting in the summer of 1975, and formally launched his campaign in the autumn. Reagan soon established himself as the conservative candidate; like-minded organizations such as the American Conservative Union became the key components of his political base. He relied on a strategy crafted by campaign manager John Sears of winning a few primaries early to seriously damage the liftoff of Ford's campaign, but the strategy quickly disintegrated.
In New Hampshire, Reagan received the endorsements of second-term Governor Meldrim Thomson as well as the editorial blessing of the Union Leader. With a mediagenic presence and polished speaking talent, Reagan drew sizable crowds as he traveled through the 10 counties of New Hampshire for 19 days of stumping that winter, and his appearances drew considerable media attention.
During the final weekend before the February 24 New Hampshire primary in an extremely close Ford-Reagan race, the former President Richard Nixon left on another journey to China. Some Ford advisors believed the timing of the trip was a deliberate ploy to damage his successor and set in motion a nomination deadlock that would lead to the eventual selection of Nixon favorite John Connally, who although then a Democrat had served as Nixon's treasury secretary from 1970 to 1972.
En la imagen: Gerald y Betty Ford llegan al aeropuerto de Manchester, New Hampshire, en 1976.
After two trips to the state, President Ford won a narrow victory in New Hampshire — 55,156 to 53,569 - the closest vote in the history of the primary and a remarkable indicator of just how close the national race between these two men would be. His organizational drive led by California political consultant Stuart Spencer received much credit for the President's victory.
Much of the blame for the narrow Reagan defeat was laid at the door of his proposal to cut $90 billion from the federal budget to reduce taxes, decrease the federal deficit, and also to make a down payment on the national debt. This proposal, along with a suggestion to consider a plan to invest Social Security funds in the stock market, kept Reagan on the defensive throughout the primary. Former governor Walter Peterson, a Ford delegate, said of the $90 billion plan that it "was attacked at just the right time. Doubt was cost on that proposal. There was also doubt as to whether he (Reagan) was really the sensible kind of person the country ought to have."
Reagan's failure to exploit public disapproval of the Panama Canal treaties (something he attacked with great frequency in later primaries), was considered another reason for the narrow loss. One Ford staffer, when asked if their campaign was wary of the Panama Canal issue, acknowledged it had shown up in the polling data as a problem for Ford. "We were scared to death of the issue in New Hampshire. The Reagan people blew it by not exploiting it."
Ford's narrow victory in New Hampshire had ramifications well beyond the tiny number of votes tabulated and delegates allotted. Ford won 18 of the 21 delegates. Later that year, John Sears, Reagan's national campaign manager, told a Harvard University Institute of Politics seminar: "The week before the New Hampshire primary, our polling showed us ahead in Florida. Then on the Saturday after the New Hampshire primary, the poll showed us 18 points down, which gives you some idea of what momentum, or lack of it, can do."
Poor management of expectations and an ill-timed speech promising to shift responsibility for federal services to the states without identifying any clear funding mechanism caused Reagan to lose later in Florida and Illinois primaries. Reagan found himself cornered, desperately needing a win to stay in the race.
En la imagen: Ronald Reagan con su asesor Mike Deaver, 1976.
By the time the North Carolina primary arrived, the Ford camp was cocky and confident and Reagan was reeling. The exception was two Reaganites, Republican Senator Jesse Helms and his sidekick Tom Ellis, who hadn’t given up. To say Ford, having won the New Hampshire, Florida, and Illinois primaries, was shocked by North Carolina is putting it mildly. Neither he nor the press had any idea that Helms and Ellis might engineer a huge Reagan upset, a victory that kept him in the race.
Then came Texas. Ford had meticulously organized what few Republicans there were in the state. His chief Texas strategist, Jim Francis, said that despite Reagan’s popularity with conservatives, Ford was poised to win the primary with a record turnout. On primary day, Francis knew Ford was in trouble when he arrived at his local precinct voting place and encountered a line filled with people he’d never laid eyes on. They weren’t regular Republicans, that’s for sure, but Reagan had attracted them. Ford actually got his record vote. But the turnout for Reagan swamped it. The Texas primary was the same day as the White House Correspondents’ dinner in Washington, attended by Ford and all the bigwigs in his administration and campaign. They were a glum lot at the dinner.
The lesson from Texas was never under estimate Ronald Reagan. Texas was also significant for another reason. Reagan reached top form in campaigning in the weeks before the primary. Any candidate in America arouse crowds the way Reagan did. His riff about keeping the Panama Canal prompted his audiences to go practically beserk. Weeks earlier, Reagan drop his note cards on the floor at a luncheon speech in Joliet, Illinois, then fail to get them back in the right order. His speech that day was dreary and incoherent. He looked like a loser. But in Texas, a different Reagan had stepped front and center, the Reagan we came to know as president and world leader.
He ran off a string of primary victories - Indiana, Georgia, Alabama - that left him close to Ford in delegates at the convention in Kansas City. Although Ford had won more primary delegates than Reagan, he did not have enough to secure the nomination, and both candidates arrived at the convention early to campaign for additional support. Here Reagan benefitted from his highly committed delegates, notably "Reagan's Raiders" of the Texas delegation. They and other conservative Western and Southern delegates particularly faulted the Ford Administration's foreign policy. But once the Mississippi delegation, led by conservative Clarke Reed, sided with Ford, it was clear Reagan couldn’t win the nomination.
En la imagen: un delegado de Reagan lanza un mensaje a Rocky (Nelson Rockefeller) en la Convención Republicana, Kansas City, 1976.
The conservatives succeeded in inserting several key planks into the party platform. Reagan and North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms successfully had a "moral foreign policy" plank inserted. In light of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the 1976 Republican platform became the first to advocate a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution. They next sought a rules change which would have required candidates to identify their running mate before the start of balloting.
Reagan withdrew from the race at the end of the Republican Convention in Kansas City, but was permitted to address the delegates—virtually overshadowing Ford's own speech—and convinced Ford to drop Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, who was seen as too liberal, in favor of Senator Bob Dole of Kansas.
*President Ford 1187
*Ronald Reagan 1070
*Elliot L. Richardson 1 (...)
* Video de entrevista al ex Senador Paul Laxalt, aliado de Reagan, sobre la Convención Republicana de 1976 (Real Player).
Artículos interesantes de la época:
* How Ford Won It (Time Magazine)
* The Dole Decision (Time Magazine)
En la imagen: Ford y Reagan se saludan en la Convención Republicana, Kansas City, 1976.