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Ford and the 1976 Nebraska Primary

Nebraska has not played a major role in the selection of the 1996 candidates for president. It was far different in 1976, when President Gerald Ford and challenger Ronald Reagan contested the state, which presented an added variable-Ford's Nebraska roots.

On July 14, 1913, Gerald R. Ford, then named Leslie King, Jr., was born in Omaha, the only person ever born in Nebraska who became president of the United States. Overlooked, perhaps, was that Ford lived in Omaha for only sixteen days. His mother, Dorothy, had fled a dreadful marriage and eventually took her baby to Michigan. In December 1913 she obtained a divorce, and her son's ties to the King family-and to Nebraska-were severed.

On May 7, 1976, President Ford made a campaign swing to Nebraska to renew those ties. After his arrival he stated, "It's great to be in Omaha-and I hope the feeling is 'mutual.'" The large enthusiastic crowds seemed to indicate it was. Ford visited his birthsite at 3201 Woolworth Avenue, and gave the commencement address at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the first president ever to do so.

A successful trip it seemed, but not confirmed at the polls a few days later. Of the 1976 Nebraska primary, Ford recalled in his autobiography: "Nebraska Republicans chose Reagan by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent. That really hurt because Nebraska was the state of my birth. In terms of the number of the delegates he won-18 of 25-my loss wasn't that significant. But what counted was 'momentum,' that magical word; and Reagan, who had won five of our last six tests, seemed to have all of it."

Nevertheless Ford won nomination and named Senator Bob Dole of Kansas as his running mate. On November 2 the Democratic ticket of Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale narrowly defeated Ford and Dole, 297 to 241 electoral votes. Nebraska, however, came through for its native son and gave him its five electoral votes.

(June 1996)

 

 

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