Democratic Party: James Carter (Georgia) and Walter Mondale (Minnesota)
Republican Party: Gerald Ford (Michigan) and Robert Dole (Kansas)
Carter/Mondale: 297 electoral votes, 40.83 million popular votes
Ford/Dole: 240 electoral votes, 39.14 million popular votes
The Watergate scandal and the storm clouds swirling in Washington, D.C. did a massive amount of damage to the relative unity created in the Nixon landslide election of 1972. Nixon’s paranoia and fear of the regrouping of Democratic politicians led him to utilize his campaign organization, CREEP (Campaign to Re-elect the President), to bug the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate Building in Washington, D.C. Nixon also did much to discredit rumors of his involvement in the break-in and distance himself from the uproar over a possible cover up. However, the evidence against his staff and the hours of Oval Office tapes that incriminated Nixon in planning the break-in built up toward his resignation from office in the summer of 1974. Nixon’s accomplishments and legacy were tarnished by a scandal that destroyed trust by the American people in the White House.
Stepping into the role of president was former House Speaker and vice president Gerald Ford. Ford, who had ascended to the vice presidency after Spiro Agnew resigned due to allegations of misconduct while governor of Maryland, brought an air of accountability and honesty to the White House. Though Ford was not known for being innovative in his politics, he was a loyal Republican who had clout among former Congressional colleagues. However, Ford’s period of goodwill with the nation did not last long. A year after taking office, Ford decided to pardon Nixon and other Nixon associates in order to get past what he called “our national nightmare.” As well, his plan to fight inflation and stagnation in the economy was a failure and the American recognition of Russian interests in Eastern Europe made Ford’s brief agenda more difficult to force through. Within his own party, there was discontent over how Ford was functioning as president and a primary challenge by former California governor Ronald Reagan. However attractive Reagan was as a candidate for the presidency, the Republicans did not want to appear divided to the nation and re-nominated Ford as the Republican candidate.
The Democratic nomination process was far more stable and clean than in past elections. Dark horse candidate James Carter, the former governor of Georgia, defeated more popular candidates like Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts on his way to the top of the Democratic ticket. Carter, whose folksy charm and moderate approach to politics, seemed to be an antidote to the corrupt insider politics of Washington, D.C. Carter utilized his background as a peanut farmer, his propensity for quoting Bible verse, and his relative inexperience to the ways of D.C. politics in order to defeat Ford, who appeared as a stand-in president more and more by the day.
Tags:1976: Carter, Ford, and Rebuilding Trust in the Presidency