The forced resignations, separately, of both President Nixon and Vice President Agnew left President Ford the first President ever not elected to national office. Ford did not have the support that most incumbent Presidents enjoyed. The rising right-wing of the party was especially unhappy with Ford, and Governor Reagan of California, chose to challenge Ford for the Republican Presidential nomination.
Reagan challenged Ford in all of the primaries. Ford and Reagan arrived at the convention with nearly the same number of delegates. Ford, however, managed to carry the convention on the first ballot. The convention accepted Ford after he agreed to nominate Senator Dole, of Kansas, as his Vice Presidential running mate. Dole was favored by the right-wing of the party.
The Republican platform, however, reflected the views of the Reaganites: increased defense spending, retention of the Panama canal, opposition to busing and abortion.
The Democratic nominee, Governor Carter, of Georgia, was an almost total unknown. Carter started out early and campaigned in each and every primary. Eventually, Carter won so many delegates that he was totally unbeatable.
The 1976 general election campaign began with Ford trailing by over 30 points. Ford challenged Carter to a series of debates. Ford performed well during the first debate and managed to cut Carter’s lead by 10 points. In the second debate, Ford made a major mistake by saying that Eastern Europe was free from Soviet domination. This campaign also included the first debates between vice presidential candidates, pitting Dole against Mondale. Mondale came off as the winner of that debate.
Jimmy Carter got into trouble after giving a Playboy interview in which he talked candidly about “desire in his heart”. Carter campaigned as an outsider intent on cleaning up Washington.
Carter won the election by a very narrow margin over Ford, thanks to his support from the South, labor, blacks and white ethnics.
Participation of Eligible Voters: 53.3%