In the 1978 U.S. U.S. Presidential Election Vice President Ronald Reagan was elected President to succeed incumbent president Gerald Ford who decided to retire at the end of his first term.

Republican Nomination

Republican candidates

  • John Anderson, U.S. representative from Illinois
  • Howard Baker, Senate Minority Leader from Tennessee
  • Ben Fernandez, businessman from Michigan
  • Jack Kemp, U.S. representative from New York
  • Ronald Reagan, Governor from California
  • Harold Stassen, former Governor of Minnesota
  • Lowell Weicker, U.S. Senator from Connecticut

The Republican primary was a lackluster affair, with Vice President Reagan being the front-runner from the beginning.

John Connally and George Bush had both been considered potential candidates, but both declined to enter the primaries.

Reagan's lead was shaken when Howard Baker won the Iowa caucus by 2%. But Reagan made a comeback, winning the New Hampshire primary with 51%. By late-May, Reagan had a lock on the nomination having won 26 primaries to Baker's 6.

When it came to picking a running mate, many expected Reagan to pick Baker. Reagan, however, chose a dark-horse running mate: Illinois Congressman Phil Crane.

Democratic Nomination

Democratics Candidates

  • Reuben Askew, Governor of Florida
  • Birch Bayh, U.S. senator from Indiana
  • Lloyd Bentsen, U.S. senator from Texas
  • Dale Bumpers, U.S. senator from Arkansas
  • Jimmy Carter, former Governor and 1974 vice-presidential nominee from Georgia
  • Frank Church, U.S. senator from Idaho
  • Clifford Finch, Governor of Mississippi
  • Ted Kennedy, U.S. senator from Massachusetts
  • Ellen McCormack, pro-life activist
  • Milton Shapp, Governor of Pennsylvania
  • Adlai Stevenson III, U.S. senator from Illinois
  • Mo Udall, U.S. representative from Arizona

The 1978 Democratic primaries was one of the hardest fought primaries in history. The New York Times in late-1977 called it a race with five front-runners: Askew, Bentson, Carter, Kennedy, Udall. Ted Kennedy was considered to be the early front-runner, but after coming in third in the Iowa caucus to Carter and Udall his campaign lost momentum. In the New Hampshire primary Udall beat Carter by barely 1%. Uball would go on to win Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, while Carter won Florida (beating native-son Askew), Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina. Kennedy won Massachusetts and Vermont but could never regain his momentum.

By mid-June with just over 1500 delegates needed to win the nomination, the count was;

Udall 1291
Carter 1001
Others 567

Just before the Democratic Nation Convention, Udall made a deal with Kennedy who was very mad at Carter because he blamed Carter for negative attacks in Iowa that sank his bid for the White House. Kennedy agreed to swing at least 235 delegates to Udall in exchange for picking the VP and a least two cabinet members (the Secretaries of State, and Defense aside). At the Convention Udall won on the first ballot with 1509 votes to Carter's 1093. Udall picked (Kennedy actually picked) Colorado senator Gary Hart for his running mate.

General Election

Reagan began the election four points down in the polls against Udall largely because American's were growing tired of Republicans. By October however, Reagan's powerful oratory coupled with almost god-like worship from conservative's enabled him to come to a tie in the polls with Udall.

The three presidential debates were a turning point in the campaign just as they had been four years before. Reagan and Udall were both good on their feet, but in the final of three debates, Reagan looked into the camera and said "It might be well if you asked yourself, are you better off now then you were four years age?". This line coupled with signing of a document known as the "Contract with America" signed by several congressman including Jack Kemp, Phil Crane and a rising star from Georgia three-congressman Newt Gingrich, helped to seal the election for Reagan. Conservatives went to the polls in great numbers wile many liberals stayed home. The result was an unexpected Reagan Republican sweep.

Candidate Party Popular Vote PV% Electoral Vote Running Mate
Ronald Wilson Reagan Republican 43,300,031 53.4% 465 Phillip Miller Crane
Morris King Udall Democrat 38,184,287 44.8% 73 Gary Warren Hart
Other - 1,481,234 1.8% 0 -

Reagan Revolution

In addition to winning the presidency for the fourth consecutive time, the Republicans took control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 24 years. Running on their "Contract with America", the Republicans won 230 seats in the House, and 55 in the Senate. The new congressional leadership was as follows;


President pro tempore: Milton Young (R)

Majority Leader: Howard Baker (R)

Minority Leader: Robert Byrd (D)

Majority Whip: Ted Stevens (R)

Minority Whip: Alan Cranston (D)

House of Representatives

Speaker of the House: John Rhodes (R)

Majority Leader: Jack Kemp (R)

Minority Leader: Tip O'Neill (D)

Majority Whip: Newt Gingrich (R)

Minority Whip: Jim Wright (D)

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