1976 Presidential Election

Announcement: The Candidates



Gerald Ford was the only president to hold office while never having staged a national campaign. Focused on healing the nation, Ford was at first reluctant to run for election in 1976 but soon changed his mind. Advisors assessed his candidacy and concluded that because people did not know him well, he had soft political support among the electorate and could not count on incumbency as an advantage. Candidates viewed as political "outsiders" were likely to have the upper hand. The perception that Ford's was a "caretaker" administration further weakened his image as a strong leader. The election would depend on the performance of the economy, advisors cautioned, as the nation struggled to emerge from the worst economic downturn since the Depression.


Republican Candidates

portait photos of President Ford and Ronald Reagan

Looming large over Ford's candidacy was the former two-term governor of California, Ronald Reagan. A gifted orator, Reagan had contended for the Republican nomination in 1968. Motivated by his displeasure with Nixon and Ford's foreign policy, domestic issues, and Supreme Court rulings, Reagan reasoned that Ford's caretaker status placed him, not Ford, next in line.

President and Mrs. Ford dined with Ronald and Nancy Reagan in late March 1975. Mrs. Ford later wrote that both she and her husband left knowing Reagan would run. Still, advisors later admitted that the White House underestimated Reagan's candidacy as Ford brushed aside Reagan's rhetoric, which he felt offered unrealistic solutions to complex problems.

Though the two shared conservative instincts, Reagan cast Ford as an establishment Republican. The President argued that Reagan was too far to the right for the general electorate, even as he had twice offered Reagan positions in his Cabinet in 1975 and would allow the moderate Vice President Rockefeller to be pushed off the campaign ticket.

Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy on November 20. Ford's team hoped early primary wins would knock Reagan out of the race by March. Instead, the battle would extend to the Republican National Convention in August. Looking back on Reagan's challenge, Ford's Chief of Staff Richard Cheney later confessed, "We had a lot to learn in the White House."


Democratic Candidates

Democratic candidates sought to take advantage of a newly expanded primary system and an anti-establishment political sentiment among the American people. The candidates included senators, former governors, and local political officials. Relying on grass-roots campaign efforts and a team of supporters known as the Peanut Brigade, former state senator and governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter took the lead. Largely unknown to the American public prior to his campaign, Carter capitalized on his "outsider" status to win support.

Scroll through the names below for brief biographies of each candidate.




Political aide John Calkins calls for the formation of a campaign organization.
  View Document (PDF)


Ford political adviser Jack Stiles urges a quick start to the campaign to stave off a Ronald Reagan challenge.
  View Document (PDF)


Ford authorizes President Ford Committee to solicit and receive contributions and to incur expenses.
  View Document (PDF)


Gerald R. Ford's speech cards for the announcement of his candidacy for the Republican nomination for President.
  View Speech Cards (PDF)


"Citizens for Reagan" committee is announced.
  View Announcement (PDF)


Ronald Reagan announces his candidacy.
  View Announcement (PDF)


Special Assistant Jerry Jones writes an "Eyes Only" memo concerning recent polls and Bob Teeter's advice on slowing Ronald Reagan's momentum.
  View Memo (PDF)



Ford Candidacy Announcement

Reagan Candidacy Announcement
(Courtesy Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)