40th Anniversary of the Nixon Pardon: The 1976 Election
As the country prepared for the next Presidential election in 1976 Watergate and President Ford’s decision to pardon Richard Nixon in 1974 was still on people’s minds.
Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter repeatedly said he would not make the pardon a campaign issue. “The American people know who pardoned Richard Nixon,” he stated. “They don’t need to have it raised by a candidate.” His running mate didn’t share that view. Vice Presidential nominee Walter Mondale mentioned it in his speech at the Democratic National Convention and continued to bring it up during the campaign.
The Harris Survey confirmed that it was still an issue. In August 1976 poll results showed a 59 to 33 percent majority of voters believed President Ford “was wrong to pardon Richard Nixon.” At the same time, a 52 to 34 percent majority felt that he had acted in the country’s best interests. Based on the data Louis Harris concluded “that any change in public attitudes towards the Nixon pardon could have an immediate impact on the race for the White House.”
Ford’s campaign advisers included a briefing sheet on the pardon in the President’s debate preparation materials. In the first campaign debate he was asked to address why former President Nixon received a full pardon while amnesty for Vietnam draft resisters had been conditional. He stood by both decisions, stating that “the need and necessity for me to concentrate on the problems of the country fully justified the action that I took” in pardoning Nixon.
On November 2, 1976, Jimmy Carter won the election by a slim margin, receiving 50% of the popular vote to President Ford’s 48%. Many believed that the pardon had contributed to President Ford’s defeat, including Betty Ford. “Many people who definitely were for Jerry could not bring themselves to vote for him because he pardoned Nixon,” she later said. One post election analysis of the factors motivating voters’ decisions reported that “seven points of the anti-Ford vote stemmed from Watergate.”
Image: President Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter Meet at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia to Debate Domestic Policy during the First of the Three Ford-Carter Debates, 09/23/1976.
You meet ‘em, cuss ‘em, and give ‘em hell and you’ll win in 1964.
Harry Truman to John F. Kennedy
On this day, July 8, 1975, Ford Officially Announced his Candidacy. During the primaries, President Ford faced a strong challenge by Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination. He prevailed, and chose Senator Robert Dole of Kansas as his running mate.
Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter presented another tough contest in the general election.
As November 2 neared polls showed that President Ford had succeeded in narrowing Carter’s large lead. The race had been neck and neck throughout the campaign but the election returns revealed that Carter pulled ahead to win with 297 electoral votes to Ford’s 241.
President Ford called his opponent to offer his congratulations and, since his voice was nearly gone, Betty Ford read his concession statement to the nation.
During the balance of his administration President Ford worked on the 1978 budget, delivered his final State of the Union speech, and strove to facilitate a smooth transition.
On January 20, 1977, President Carter began his inaugural address with a special recognition: “For myself and for our nation I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land.”
Pictured: President and Mrs. Ford wave to the crowd at the Republican National Convention in Kansas City, Missouri, on August 19, 1976.
-from the Ford Library
On November 7, 2000, Hillary Rodham Clinton was elected to the United States Senate for the state of New York. Her election had several firsts - she was the first female Senator from New York and the only First Lady to run for public office. Clinton was sworn in on January 3, 2001 and she served as both a Senator and First Lady until January 20th.
Photograph of President William Jefferson Clinton, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton Applauding during Election Night at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York, New York, 11/07/2000
Kennedy vs. Nixon - The First Televised Presidential Debate
By 1960, television was fast becoming the primary means by which to reach people. That year, Senator John F. Kennedy introduced a powerful new factor into American political campaigning when he challenged Vice President Richard M. Nixon to debate the issues in a series of joint television appearances. Knowing that he was the front-runner, Nixon’s advisers cautioned him against accepting the challenge, but Nixon, confident of his debating skills did accept. The political confrontations that followed were the most historic since the Lincoln-Douglas debate of 1858.
Approximately 70 million Americans- at the time the largest political audience in U.S. history- watched on the night of September 26 as the candidates for the Presidency faced each other on television for the first time.
Image: First televised Presidential debate with candidates Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon, broadcasted from the WBBM television studio in Chicago, Illinois. 9/26/60.
-from the JFK Library
The First of Three Debates
President Gerald Ford and then-former Governor Jimmy Carter re-started Presidential Debates in 1976. The first Presidential Debates were between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960, but did not continue until Carter and Ford faced off. Presidential Debates have continued ever since.
Shown here, President Ford and Jimmy Carter meet at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia to debate domestic policy during the first of the three Ford-Carter Debates. September 23, 1976.