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| | |-+  Did Gerald Ford's 1976 debate gaffe make the difference?
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Author Topic: Did Gerald Ford's 1976 debate gaffe make the difference?  (Read 1041 times)
RRusso1982
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« on: August 06, 2014, 09:03:55 am »
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In 1976, when Gerald Ford said "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe," did that make the difference in the election?  Carter started out over 30 points ahead of Ford and Ford was closing hard and fast by the time of the debate, and his momentum seemed to stop after that debate.  I also looked at the 1976 election results, and with a swing of 6,000 votes in Ohio and a swing of 18,000 votes in Wisconsin, Ford would have won.  Both states have a very large number of Eastern European immigrants and Ford was actually polling well with those voters until his debate gaffe.
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sg0508
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« Reply #1 on: August 06, 2014, 09:25:24 am »
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I've asked this question about the '76 election in the past.  I don't think it made the difference, but it did slow Ford's momentum in the fall.  Keep in mind, however, he regained the momentum in October and was actually even to 1-2 points ahead two weeks prior to Election Day.  As usual, the challenger got the final balance, which was enough to get Carter over the top.

I personally believe that while most people vote for President and not VP, the decision to appease the conservative base by putting Dole on the ticket (a big mistake) rather than Rockefeller was the bigger error, as it could have cost Ford the industrial northeastern states and possibly OH, in exchange for the less, EV rich states of the plains, which didn't end up impressive for the GOP ticket anyhow.

Keep in mind that McCarthy also played spoiler in a few states and that hurt Carter far more than Ford.
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SJG
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« Reply #2 on: August 06, 2014, 07:44:05 pm »
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I've heard some people argue that he lost Wisconsin because the Polish-American community was offended and felt Ford didn't care about Poland.
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GPORTER
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« Reply #3 on: August 08, 2014, 06:59:00 pm »
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I've always thought it cost him the election. His lead in my opinion is 5 nationally instead of 1 the day before the election w/o the gaffe. I would pick hypothetically a better running mate had I been in Ford's position in 1976.
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« Reply #4 on: August 09, 2014, 04:39:40 pm »
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The 33 point lead that Carter had post-Democratic convention was more probably due to the fact that the Republicans had not yet decided on a nominee at the time.  Once Ford was nominated, there was a general consolidation of his support--but he did make a remarkable comeback.

The Eastern Europe comment wasn't the difference, but Ford's upward trajectory was stalled from its fallout.  He did keep it close in the PV polls from early-mid October on, but he was perceived to be generally behind in the all important EV count throughout the campaign.  The only big state that was considered to be likely for Ford was Michigan (21 electoral votes), whereas Carter was generally ahead in New York (41), Pennsylvania (27), and Texas (26) (Florida for Carter as well, but it had only 14 votes then versus 29 today).   Along with the South, Carter could count on about 200+ EV going into Election Day, whereas Ford had a base of about 100 or so.

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sg0508
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« Reply #5 on: August 09, 2014, 05:09:23 pm »
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Despite the final results being close, Election Night coverage (see ABC on youtube) never really seemed that competitive.  Carter went ahead early on (from the south coming in first), and Ford never really closed the gap until Carter carried HI (NBC's call to provide the win) or MS.  Then, Ford won CA, IL and a few other remaining states to close the final margin. 

Not choosing Rockefeller alienated some of the normal moderate GOP base in the industrial states (i.e. NY, PA and OH) and that was the difference.  Dole was a DISASTER on the ticket and did nothing to help Ford.
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SJG
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« Reply #6 on: August 11, 2014, 04:13:17 pm »
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Dole gave Ford Indiana,Virginia,and Oklahoma at least which would've gone to Carter based on the whole "peanut farmer" thing.

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ShadowOfTheWave
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« Reply #7 on: August 13, 2014, 07:29:17 pm »
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Ford won IN by 7%. No way Dole swung that.
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Liberalrocks
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« Reply #8 on: August 14, 2014, 02:41:13 pm »
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If Ford could have carried New York possibly with the help of Rockefeller remaining on the ticket or another northeastern none of the above stated states Oklahoma, Indiana, or Virginia would have mattered. Although I don't see a scenario with Ford losing Indiana or Dole having been the one who secured it for him. The loss in New York  was the bigger deal. Similiarly with Ford losing both Ohio and Wisconsin by razor thin margins had he flipped those two states he lost by smaller margins he would have won.

1976 was an interesting race. I actually could see myself voting for Ford over Carter then again the GOP was vastly different back then.
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« Reply #9 on: August 14, 2014, 04:28:09 pm »
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Probably, but only because as the OP noted the few swing states necessary to flip the election were SOOOO close.

Polish and other East-European Americans weren't the only ones put off by the gaffe. IT reinforced the (mis)perception of Ford being a bumbling flake who was in over his head. Heck, it could've swayed enough votes to flip uber-close HI despite there being only a nominal Polish community there.

Putting Rocky on the ticket is all well and good in theory, but conservatives would've gone ape-$hit at the convention and afterwards. Ford desperately needed to mend the party after his bruising battle with Reagan. Remember, considering how relatively un-polarized the 76 electorate was and how relatively close ideologically Ford and Carter were (definite differences, but arguably as close as any major party candidates since Stevenson-Eisenhower), at lot of conservative Reagan supporters (especially in the south and border states like VA and OK) could've opted for Carter over Ford with their bete noire, Rocky, on the ticket. 
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« Reply #10 on: August 14, 2014, 04:32:42 pm »
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Polish and other East-European Americans weren't the only ones put off by the gaffe. IT reinforced the (mis)perception of Ford being a bumbling flake who was in over his head. Heck, it could've swayed enough votes to flip uber-close HI despite there being only a nominal Polish community there.

Pretty much this. I think it was really the moderator if he was "sure about that" or something.

By the way, back in the 1970s, most of the polish community in Hawaii lived on Ohau, which was the closest Hawaiian County in the 76' election. 
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