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Another Loss For the Gipper

[TIME Magazine Cover]

(TIME; March 29, 1976) -- In his most famous movie role, Ronald Reagan, as the strep- stricken Notre Dame halfback George Gipp, insisted on going to Illinois to play the Big Game against Northwestern. He made the do-or-die try, and sure enough -- in a scene worth three wet handkerchiefs -- he died soon afterward.

Something of the sort happened last week in Illinois to Reagan's candidacy. Its health had been severely taxed by four primary losses to President Ford, yet Reagan gamely pushed on to Illinois and suffered his worst defeat so far. Score: Ford 59%, Reagan 40%. (Ford got the news in his second-floor White House study, while he was working through some papers and listening to Angie Dickinson's Police Woman on a TV set that was turned down low.)

But Reagan refused -- for now -- to let his candidacy expire. From his Pacific Palisades aerie overlooking smog-bound Los Angeles, he claimed that "we appear to have met our goal." For 1976's hard-pressed Gipper, 40% constitutes a victory. Next day he jetted to North Carolina for five days of campaigning in a feverish run to overcome Ford's lead among the Tarheels.

Reagan's hang-on insistence was all the more puzzling because of his lackadaisical campaigning style in Illinois. Reported TIME Midwest Bureau Chief Ben Cate: "He wasted hours of valuable time going from one obscure town to another by motorcade. He sometimes slipped into motels and hotels through back doors, then begged off working the crowds waiting outside with a lame excuse: `I'm sorry, but I'm running behind schedule.' he did not go after the suburban straphangers until it was too late. By contrast, Ford worked the fences and the police barricades as if he were L.B.J. in his prime. He deftly handled questions about everything from the Nixon pardon to the problems of Lock and Dam 26 on the Mississippi River at Alton, Ill., to civil rights for homosexuals (`I have always tried to be an understanding person as far as people are concerned who are different from myself'). He played very well in Peoria -- by 63% -- and just about everywhere else."

Out of Gas. After Illinois, Reagan trailed Ford by at least 54 delegates to 174. To give him even a remote chance of winning, his supporters had to concoct some farfetched scenarios. Noting that he had a 54%-to-37% lead in the latest poll in California, taken just before his loss in New Hampshire, California G.O.P. Vice Chairman Mike Montgomery doggedly maintained: "Take what delegates he has now, add California [167], and he's ahead." After North Carolina, however, Reagan has no expectations of winning a primary before Texas on May 1. If he blows that one, concludes his campaign manager, John Sears, "he's out."

The pressures will mount on him to withdraw much sooner for the sake of party unity. Said a White House assistant, indelicately: "Even Rommel gave up when his tanks ran out of gas." For fear of antagonizing conservatives whose enthusiasm Ford will need in November, the President's aides have not directly assailed Reagan as a spoiler. Instead, they have encouraged Ford loyalists to speak out. Rogers Morton, who was tapped to succeed Bo Calloway as campaign manager, has asked Texas Senator John Tower, House Minority Leader John Rhodes and Republican Whip Robert Michel to "open a dialogue" with such Reagan partisans as North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms and Illinois Republican Congressman Philip Crane. Nine Republican Governors advised Reagan to quit.

"The President," says a Ford confidant, "is increasingly moving into a position where he can afford to be magnanimous. But Reagan is moving into a position where he's going to have to become a s.o.b. That's a dangerous situation."

So far, however, the Reagan challenge has been a bracing spring training for Ford. Reports TIME Washington Correspondent Dean Fischer: "Reagan's bid is viewed as a plus because it enabled Ford to develop an effective campaign organization early, improve his own campaigning ability through practice, appear to the public as a comparative moderate and get a lot of publicity. Until now, in the words of one facetious White House aide: `It looks as if Reagan is a Ford plant.'" Campaigning at week's end in North Carolina, Ford declared that he will win the G.O.P. nomination whether Reagan withdraws his candidacy or not, and flatly denied that he had authorized anyone on his staff to "suggest to my opponent that he ought to get out of the race." Ford did avow, however, that Reagan's continued efforts could have a divisive effect on the party.

On Track. Of course, the President benefited even more from the economy's rebound. Until about six weeks ago, surveys showed that Republicans were gloomy about the future; now most of them believe that the U.S. is back on the tracks. As a result, even conservatives are voting for Ford by top-heavy majorities. Since his State of the Union address in January, Ford has not been forced to make a decision that would offend any bloc of voters -- an almost incredible run of luck that Hollywood's game Gipper had no way of overcoming.

May 10, 1976 REPUBLICANS Reagan's Startling Texas Landslide

"For weeks," cracked Ronald Reagan, "I've been whistling `Nothin' could be finer than to be in Carolina." I hope I can soon whistle `The eyes of Texas are upon you.'"

He was not only able to whistle it, he sang it over the phone from Indiana to his supporters gathered at a victory party in Houston. By early Sunday it was clear that Reagan had won the Texas primary in a startling landslide. He would probably win every one of the 96 delegates elected to the Republican National Convention and President Ford none at all. At best, in late returns, Ford could hope to salvage a few delegates. Reagan was ahead in the popular vote by some 2 to 1.

The Californian owed much of his victory to conservative Democrats who crossed over to vote Republican. Said G.O.P. Senator John Tower, Ford's Texas campaign chairman: "The Reagan organization, aided by former Wallace leaders, made a concerted and obviously successful effort to get Wallaceites into the Republican primary to support Governor Reagan." Even though the outcome was distorted by Democratic votes, it will provoke many agonizing doubts among campaign strategists at the White House.

Reagan had been favored to prevail in Texas, where nothing succeeds like conservative politics with a touch of cussedness. President Ford tried his best to be just as conservative and just as cussed, but Texans were obviously not convinced. In giving Reagan their votes, they also gave him a dramatic reprieve in his uphill fight for the nomination and delivered a jolting setback to Ford. Until Texas, he had been far ahead of Reagan in firm delegates, 268 to 137 (needed to nominate: 1,130).

Hard Issues. Reagan's victory seems to indicate that his Southern strategy is beginning to work. In eight primaries before Texas, he won only in North Carolina, losing to Ford not only in the North but also in Florida. He was counting on a rebound in the string of Southern primaries and caucuses in April and May. He did better than expected in Arizona. Even though Senator Barry Goldwater supported the President, Reagan won 27 of the 29 delegates chosen at last week's G.O.P. state convention. At the same time he picked up eleven of the 16 delegates in the Kentucky caucuses. He is well ahead in this week's Georgia and Alabama primaries. While Ford had been considered leading in Arkansas and Tennessee, which hold primaries on May 25, Reagan's Texas win will give him a chance of overtaking the President there. With such victories, he would be a real challenger.

In Texas, Reagan's organization could not rival Ford's -- an important consideration in a state where the Republican Party is organized haphazardly, if at all. In 44 of the state's 254 counties, Republicans simply cannot vote in the primaries because there are no polling booths for them. The President's staff installed central phone banks in 26 counties where some 88% of the G.O.P. vote is concentrated. Ford also outspent Reagan -- $450,000 to $250,000; candidates for the Reagan slate, however, spent heavily on their own races.

But Reagan had the issues, and he played them for all they were worth. National security was one of Reagan's big winners. He charged that the U.S. had fallen dangerously behind the Soviet Union in military strength. He accused Secretary of State Henry Kissinger of "bowing and scraping" before the Russians because he had no faith in the American people and wanted to accommodate to what he considered to be the Red wave of the future. Now Ford will be under increasing pressure from right-wing Republicans and a faction in the White House to dump Kissinger.

Reagan attacked Ford for cutting back on military bases and post offices while continuing to subsidize the United Nations. The U.S. contribution should be reduced at once, said Reagan. he also accused the President of planning to give away the Panama Canal to a "tinhorn dictator friend of Fidel Castro's. Personally, I would tell this jerk we bought it, we paid for it, and we are going to keep it." Ford replied that he had no intention of "giving away" the canal.

In a state where oil is king, Reagan also lambasted the bill signed by Ford in 1975 to roll back the price of domestic oil and to remove the $2-per-bbl. tariff on imported oil. Reagan called for a repeal of the bill and an end to all price controls so that the U.S. would produce more oil and rely less on imports from the Middle East. "How many Texans will lose their jobs?" he demanded. "How many Texas plants will be closed during the next oil embargo?" In the oil-rich Panhandle, some producers felt betrayed by the President. "We thought Ford said he would veto the bill," complained an oil operator. "So a lot of us contracted for rigs, paid bonuses, leased land, and were ready to go. We had bet on him and we lost."

Breezy Candor. The President had his family working for him. Son Jack, 24, stumped the state with a breezy candor. With the Citizen's Band radio in her car, Betty found a new medium to project the Ford message. A fascinated Texas press picked up every word uttered by "First Mama." Reagan's family was less in evidence but equally hard-working. His wife Nancy spent six days in Texas, appearing on radio and TV interviews. Son Ron, 17, joined the press bus to gather information for a political science paper he was writing for school.

Conspicuously absent from Reagan's campaign -- or Ford's -- was any salute to the last Republican elected President. Ford did not even mention Nixon's name, substituting instead "my predecessor" or "Lyndon Johnson's successor." Explained the President: "It is better for all of us just not to remind ourselves of that unfortunate period."

August 2, 1976 REPUBLICANS Ford Is Close, but Watch Those Trojan Horses

Fifteen new votes from Hawaii. Eight from New York. Five from Virginia. One each from Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, South Carolina. Mississippi, clinging to a unit rule, was poised to switch its 30 votes from Ronald Reagan to Gerald Ford. The President had the nomination wrapped up, with 1,135 votes, five more than needed to nominate. Reagan might accept the vice- presidential nomination and join Ford to knock out Jimmy Carter with the Republicans' strongest one-two punch.

Those were the varied, mounting claims of Ford strategists last week as the war of nerves over the uncommitted delegates to the Republican National Convention reached its greatest intensity yet. In some desperation, Reagan's camp made claims of its own. Campaign Manager John Sears, offering no substantiation, contended that Reagan already had 1,140 delegates pinned down -- ten more than needed for the nomination. ("He's blowing smoke," scoffed James Baker, Ford's chief delegate hunter.) Reagan insisted yet again there was "no way" he would accept the Veep role, but was instead working on his top-of-the-ticket acceptance speech. He challenged Ford to a debate at the Kansas City convention. Ford refused. Referring to the Ford efforts to create a stampede atmosphere, Reagan Aide David Keene declared: "If we hold it this week, the game will be over and we'll win it."

The truth was that Ford had made significant gains among the uncommitted delegates, and the nomination, however uncertainly, was within his grasp. TIME's delegate count placed Ford's vote at 1,121 -- just nine short of the needed majority. Reagan had 1,078, putting him 52 short. Only 60 delegates remained uncommitted.

In a press conference at week's end, Baker claimed publicly for the first time that Ford was over the top, with 1,135 delegates favoring him on the first ballot at the convention. But that margin, which the Reagan forces continued to dispute, was hardly decisive in the fluid situation. Baker released the names of 16 delegates not previously counted by him in the Ford totals, notably 15 Hawaii delegates. Many delegate counters had already credited Ford with several of these votes. The fact that the Ford planners had not yet released the names of all their claimed delegates -- as they had said earlier they might do -- indicated some uncertainty in their delegate commitments.

Trojan Horses

A battle was developing in Mississippi, where signs of a backlash surfaced over the attempt to promote a Ford takeover -- and at week's end a narrow majority seemed to be leaning to Reagan. "The Ford folks tried some overkill, and I think it's backfired on them," observed State Republican Chairman Clarke Reed. He accused Ford's local delegate hunters of "high-pressure tactics and lies." He said that one of them called another delegate and said, "If you don't sign on by 9 a.m., you won't be a federal judge." Warned Reed: "If I get mad, I can and might just switch some of those Ford delegates back to Reagan." Ford publicly ordered Administration officials and campaign aides not to offer anything in return for support.

While Ford's bandwagon psychology was effective, there was surprising agreement in both camps on one highly significant point. Reagan aides insisted, and Ford Political Consultant F. Clifton White conceded, that between 40 and 50 of the delegates now favoring Ford are "soft" and could conceivably defect under the convention's pressures and emotions. Admitted another Ford aide: "We've got a tougher time [than Reagan] holding out troops in line." The President's wary assistants refer to those soft votes as "closet Reaganites" or "Trojan horses."

Both sides were letting out all the stops not only to hold, but also to expand, their lines. Reagan spent no fewer than 45 minutes on a phone call that he made to uncommitted New York Delegate James White, a lawyer, who was "impressed" but finally broke off the conversation because "I couldn't think of anything else to ask him." When West Virginia's uncommitted Jody Smirl, a candidate for the state legislature, visited the White House, she told Ford she hoped to get his daughter Susan to speak at a summer Republican youth camp in her state; Ford later called her to say Susan would be delighted. Susan, who dislikes campaigning, was irked but agreed. Nancy Reagan had also phoned Mrs. Smirl, who mentioned her camp -- and the Reagans lined up Actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr. to speak to the kids too.

A few of the uncommitted tried to exploit their unexpected political allure to the advantage of their home areas. Before he announced the commitment of seven more New York delegates to Ford, Edwin M. Schwenk, Republican leader of Long Island's Suffolk County, asked Ford in Washington to "throw some federal aid to our part of the woods," specifically to help ease sewage- disposal problems. Reagan aide Lyn Nofzinger wryly complained: "Ford's going after the effluent vote."

Gentle Arm Twisting. Mostly, however, the uncommitted were content to be flattered by the candidates' attention, and they found the Ford and Reagan approached gentlemanly. "Both sides are discreet," said North Dakota Delegate Don Shide. "It's very courteous and very gentle arm twisting."

Ford, of course, had more to offer. He entertained 121 New Jersey delegates and alternates in the East Room last week, then about 125 New York delegates; he plans to welcome Maryland and Pennsylvania delegations this week. The New Jersey delegates enjoyed their late afternoon cocktails as Ford mingled easily with them for 40 minutes. He gave a short speech, fielded questions for a full 45 minutes and got rousing applause with his blunt defense of his pardon of Richard Nixon ("I would do it again"). Not all delegates agreed with him, but they appreciated his candor. Moved by the presidential aura, Thomas Kean, New Jersey assembly Republican leader, echoed a feeling of many visiting delegates: "I always get tingles up and down my spine when I walk out of the White House door." Partially as a result of the visit, two presumed Reagan delegates indicated they were for Ford.

The words, "The President is calling," dazzled many of the uncommitted. Missouri's Marlene Zinzel, who with four other delegates had been flown to Chicago at the Reagan campaign's expense to meet the Californian for an hour, was nevertheless "shocked" when Ford tracked her down by phone at a beauty shop in Oakville, Mo. "I couldn't believe it," she recalls. "I can hardly remember it. He told me he could win over Carter. He asked if I would consider him, and I said that I would."

Soft Votes. The uncommitted commonly insist that the personal pleas of the candidates would not prove decisive. Many seem to like both men, find both acceptable, but remain uncertain of which has the better chance of beating Carter. "It's futile to go just for philosophy -- you go with the winner," contended Mississippi Delegate Mike Retzer, a fast-food restaurant operator who seems to favor Ford. Explained North Dakota's Shide, a farmer: "The main factor is who is electable. The incumbent has the best chance normally -- but this year everyone hates Washington." Illinois' William Scannell, a lawyer, was convinced that "Gerald Ford has done a fine job as President," but was worried because "I can't understand how Ford is in the position he's in today."

Other delegates wondered why Reagan, a better campaigner than Ford, had not caught fire with the voters. Reagan was particularly hurt among the uncommitted by all the polls -- Gallup, Harris, Yankelovich -- placing him far behind Ford in a race against Carter. Said Louisiana Delegate Charles Dunbar III, who has switched to Ford because of the polls: "I think the public has made the decision for the delegates."

Even if Ford does top 1,130 in pre-convention counts, those many soft votes would still leave the outcome in a bit of doubt. The convention rules allow a delegate to vote for anyone he wishes, even if that person has not been nominated or the delegation is bound by his state primary election laws to vote for another candidate. The Ford forces have suggested pushing for a "justice" rule, under which delegates in the 19 states that have binding primary laws must vote for the man to whom they are pledged. Though the Reagan forces would probably not oppose such a rule on principle, some feel that they would have enough covert supporters in the convention to win a challenge over procedural matters -- and might welcome such a test in hopes of securing an early psychological victory. Reagan's last best hope might well be to join -- or provoke -- any emotional battle to unleash whatever Trojan horses may lurk behind the President's lines.

Reagan: `I Don't Want Another 1964'

As Ronald Reagan's struggle for Republican delegates came under its worst strain, TIME National Political Correspondent Robert Ajemian spoke with the Governor at his Pacific Palisades home. Reports Ajemian:

"I know the President has many inducements to offer these uncommitted delegates," said Ronald Reagan with an easy smile, "and he's offering them." Typically, Reagan sounded affable as he made that blunt accusation. He sat in the long living room of his Pacific palisades house, jaunty in his Chinese-red slacks and matching sandals. The deep creases in his face and neck gave way to a tanned chest, under his loosened sports shirt, that was as smooth as a young lifeguard's. As Reagan saw it, Gerald Ford's campaign staff has not been above dangling a highway here, a hospital there, loan from the Small Business Administration. He went on: "I never ask these delegates directly to come out and support me. They've got to decide that on their own."

At the end of his eight-month campaign, Ronald Reagan was very much the way he was at the beginning: the reluctant politician whose words were fiercer than his manner. Win or lose, his candidacy has been extraordinary. He was seen by many as shallow and simplistic and even dangerous. All but a handful of Senators and Congressmen shunned him. He was opposed by nearly every state organization. He had practically no editorial support.

But when it was all over, Reagan -- virtually alone -- had collected several hundred thousand more votes than the President in contested primaries. The popular explanation was that opponent Ford was dull. But Reagan on his own had surely touched a public nerve. Now, trailing Ford in delegates, he was fighting -- in his low-key way -- to keep the race alive.

Hard to Capture. The phone rang and Reagan moved into the study to pick it up. It was a return call from South Carolina Governor James Edwards, an ally. Reagan's voice was tentative: "Jim, I don't want to cause any problems, but do you think we could get out that announcement about your uncommitted? It would be a nice boost now." He talked for a while longer about the timing of the announcement and returned, looking pleased.

Nevertheless, the uncommitted are proving hard for Reagan to capture. A couple of weeks ago, he was speaking with his usual polished force to a small cluster of Illinois delegates. As he had done with other uncommitted, Reagan stressed his electability, his better chance of smoking out Jimmy Carter. But the staring faces showed little response. After a painful silence, Reagan went on talking. He told them he was less vulnerable than Ford to Democrats. When he finished, there was no applause, only more silence. Asked if he thought he had won over many of the delegates, Reagan shrugged: "They give so little feedback, it's impossible to tell." For Reagan, the winning orator, the man with the sure sense of the mood of his audiences, the uncommitted are maddeningly tough to read.

He is trying to persuade them to hold off until the roll call, when, he insists, the President will fall short. Reagan feels sure the outcome will not be truly clear until the convention's first ballot. Furthermore, he contends that many of Ford's own delegates are really Reagan supporters who -- either because of tradition or because they are afraid of being punished politically -- are reluctant to desert the President. Says Reagan, "That's the one argument the delegates always use on me. They're uncomfortable turning against a President." When they see Ford still shy, in Reagan's view, they will abandon him.

A Fast Lead. Reagan staffers have even figured out the psychological benefit of the roll call. The early states like Alabama and Arkansas through California should give Reagan a fast lead of 250-29. He expects to hold an edge of 670-587 until the time the count reaches New York, where a big Ford bloc should life the President ahead.

Though many Republicans fear that the Kansas City convention will be bitter and bloody, the prevailing view is that the two candidates will keep their tempers, and their followers, under control. "I'm not going to do anything to make this a bloody affair," vows Reagan. "I don't want another 1964."

He has already ordered his staff to make no credentials challenges and has called upon Ford to do the same. He knows that the President's men are in charge of all the convention's key committees, like rules and platform. But he believes the permanent chairman, Arizona Congressman John Rhodes, even though he is a Ford backer, will rule fairly on any floor challenges.

Reagan has already been disillusioned by the stiff-armed treatment he has received from state party officials around the country. He remembers laboring for many of the same people in the past. He says that several of them even urged him to run, promising their support, but then turned against him. A few weeks ago, in Fort Collins, Colo., where he addressed the state convention, Reagan was rudely interrupted by State Chairman Carl Williams, a Ford supported, and warned that he must finish his speech in two more minutes. While Ford Campaign Manager Rogers Morton, forehead in hand, squirmed in great embarrassment and Reagan delegates roared disapproval, the Governor gave way. Later, in private, he sourly recalled how many times he had come into the state to help raise money.

Though Ford is in charge of the convention machinery, Reagan's hard core of almost 1,100 delegates will give him a virtual veto over most of the proceedings. "I've never seen a convention like this," says a top Ford strategist. "If the President gets nominated, he'll still be boxed in."

The consensus of party professionals is that Ford will make a guarded offer of the vice presidency to Reagan. Reagan finds this a wry irony. "He doesn't have to worry," says the Californian, "I absolutely will never take that job." Reminded that others in the past have abruptly reversed themselves and accepted the second post, Reagan sounds absolute. "They were all politicians," he says. "I'm not. I know there's a great deal of cynicism about what I say on this, but I want to be believed." He says he intends to stay free to take independent positions. If the convention tries to draft him, he insists he will head it off and refuse.

If Ford tries to buck the mood of the delegates and pick a liberal Northerner, Reagan feels it could tear the convention apart. He personally will oppose such a move. Says he: "It would be a foolish mistake. Ford would lose the South. And a lot of Republicans might not work for him. The balance of the country is in the Sunbelt, and that's where the future of our party is."

This is a main reason, Sunbelter Reagan tells the delegates, that he is the man who can defeat Carter. Reagan is eager to debate the Georgian; he believes he can expose Carter as a straddler on the issues. "Carter is brilliantly clever at obscuring," says Reagan. "When you really pin him down, he is not much different from Hubert Humphrey, just a quieter version. Carter has told us he's going to balance the budget. I want to price out the Democratic platform and see what all those promises are going to cost. I'll uncover him."

Easy Target. "Carter's main objection to Washington," adds Reagan, "is who's there, not what's being done." Reagan thinks Ford will be an easy target for Carter's non-Establishment approach, for Democratic attacks on Watergate, Nixon and the pardon.

For a moment, in a curious way, Reagan sounded like the man he wants to run against, Jimmy Carter. "The American people are so fair, so ready to sacrifice," he said, "Washington just doesn't know about our people any more. It has lost faith in them."

It was the appealing ring of the outsider. As with Carter, the approach had served Reagan well. He had made some mistakes along the bumpy way. He knows he should have entered more primaries, like Ohio and New Jersey. Now, he told his wife Nancy, it was like sitting in a courtroom and waiting for the jury to come in. But no matter what happened, Reagan felt vindicated by the hard journey. He had not destroyed himself -- or his party. He had challenged a President and made it stick.

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