U.S. President Jimmy Carter Campaign and Election Part 1

About the U.S. President Jimmy Carter, history of his presidential campaign and election.

39th President

JAMES EARL CARTER, JR.

PRESIDENCY

Election: Carter began the campaign with a whopping 33% lead over Ford in the polls, an unprecedented margin over an incumbent president. But by September, Ford had closed the gap to less than 10%, and with the debates ahead, it looked like anybody's ball game. Also eating into the Democratic lead were some celebrated Carter blunders. In an interview with Playboy magazine, Carter told the world that in his heart he had lusted after women other than his wife. "I've committed adultery in my heart many times," he said. While few married men could boast otherwise, the statement created a furor, especially in his native Bible belt. The point Carter was trying to make was that he did not feel qualified to judge others' wrongdoing. He went on, "Christ says, 'Don't consider yourself better than someone else because one guy screws a whole bunch of women while the other guy is loyal to his wife.' "Also plaguing Carter at every stop were "right-to-lifers," protesting his opposition to a constitutional amendment banning abortion.

Ford had his problems, too. His pardon of former Pres. Richard Nixon smelled like a deal to many. And just as his campaign got rolling, Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz sidetracked the Ford effort with a racial slur. Asked by Ford supporter Pat Boone why Republicans had failed to recruit more blacks, Butz blurted out in the presence of Rolling Stone reporter John Dean, "All they want is good sex, loose shoes, and a warm place to shit."

Both candidates realized that the debates could make or break either one of them, and they boned up on the issues accordingly. Ford even hired a speech coach to hone his forensic skills. Pre-debate handicappers made Carter the favorite to take the first one on domestic affairs, while the second debate on foreign policy was expected to go to Ford. The general one was rated a toss-up. Instead, in the first contest it was Ford who scored points on domestic policy. Confident, well-reasoned, gripping the sides of the podium like the captain of a ship, Ford exuded the presidency. Carter, on the other hand, appeared timid, too much in awe of his surroundings. He stammered in the opening minutes, and just as he started to hit his stride with an attack on corruption in government, a tiny amplifier failed and blew out the audio portion of the program. Both candidates stood mute for over 20 minutes while technicians frantically searched for the trouble. Ironically, the second debate went to Carter. Ford became so defensive about Kissinger's policy of detente with the U.S.S.R. that he claimed on the air that Eastern Europe was no longer under Soviet domination. Carter pounced on the slip, scoring real points with ethnic America with the retort "I'd like to see Mr. Ford convince Polish Americans that they are not under Soviet domination." Prior to the third debate, which Carter seemed to win narrowly, the vice-presidential candidates squared off before cameras. Democrats had feared that Republican Robert Dole, with his searing wit, would prove a formidable opponent for the affable Mondale. But Dole spent much of his time complaining about the Democratic wars of the 20th century and blamed the Democrats for all war-time casualties. He seemed to be suggesting that neither world war was a bipartisan effort. Mondale, after a few nervous moments in the beginning, clobbered Dole with facts, figures, and simple logic. Dole's performance reinforced his image, perhaps an unfair one, as the Republican hatchet man.

For all this, Ford continued to close in fast. An election eve Gallup poll placed Ford one point ahead for the first time.

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