The humble peanut farmer played really well in a lot of rural areas. But still, Ford in the last days was able to close a huge gap between him and carter from a double digit carter victory to a 2% only margin for carter. Had those GOP voters didnt come home then carter might of won those states in the great plains.
And if you were wondering about the south, a lot of southerners were outraged over the watergate scandal. Southerners tend to give more of a backlash towards scandals than other parts of the country which was why bush in 2000 was able to swing all of the southern states that clinton won, to him by claiming he'd restore "honor and integrity to the White House"
Also in the south, he actually got out tons of evangelical christians to vote in the south by emphasizing being a born again christian. These white evangelicals were able to counter the other white southerners who voted on racial issues. And they later switched to the GOP when they found out that carter was not the evangelical christian they'd hope he would be when in office.
Ford closed the lead gradually from the DNC (down 62-29% after). The Eastern Europe comment slowed the momentum and Carter foolishly dealing with Playboy gave Ford a second wind.