The contest for the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 1976 was between just two 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. Incumbent President 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 right-wing 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 won all 100 delegates. 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 ConventionEdit
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. The 1976 Republican National Convention was the last time a presidential convention opened without the nominee having already been decided in the primaries.