U.S. President Jimmy Carter Road to White House

About the U.S. President Jimmy Carter, history of his road to the White House.

39th President


On the Way to the White House: The precise moment Jimmy Carter decided to run for president is uncertain. But sometime midway into his term as governor, the idea crystallized into an attainable goal. One morning in September, 1973, Governor Carter stopped by to visit his mother. In her bedroom, he pulled up a chair, propped his feet up on the foot of her bed, and began to chat. Asked by Miss Lillian about his plans after his term as governor expired, Jimmy replied, "I'm going to run for president."

"President of what?" Mrs. Carter wanted to know.

"Mama," Jimmy said, "I'm going to run for president of the United States and I'm going to win."

Miss Lillian told him to get his feet off the bed.

So the race was on. The only track record Carter could point to was his single term as governor, which was progressive by Georgia standards and downright radical compared to that of his predecessor, Lester Maddox. To the three lone blacks serving on state boards and agencies when he took office, Carter had added another 50. He completely reorganized the creaky executive machinery and instituted zero-based budgeting. He abolished the longtime practice of granting more state aid to rich white school districts than to black ones. He built learning and recreation centers for retarded children. He stepped up educational programs in state prisons. And, in a symbolic gesture in a region where symbolism carries great weight, Governor Carter hung portraits of blacks in the state capitol portrait gallery and was on hand personally to install the first one, that of slain civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As the personification of the New South, Carter had received some favorable press nationwide. But so unknown was he that in 1974, just two years before his election as president, he appeared as a guest on What's My Line? and came to within a few cards of stumping the panel.

At the 1972 Democratic convention, Carter reportedly was on some early lists as George McGovern's choice for vice-president. But Carter perceived, correctly as it turned out, that McGovern would be the worst possible choice to run in the South and would probably be trounced nationwide. He joined the stop. McGovern forces and nominated Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson for president.

His performance at the 1972 convention was to undercut his standing among liberals in the years ahead. Carter's longtime support of the Vietnam War further complicated matters. He was among the last of the Democrats to call for U.S. withdrawal. And while governor he proclaimed Apr. 5, 1971, "American Fighting Man's Day" in Georgia to protest the court-martial of Lt. William Calley at Fort Benning on charges of murdering Vietnamese civilians at My Lai.

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