1976 Carter VS. Ford



Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate
"Leadership," Ford, 1976


FORD: Tonight I can tell you straight away, this nation is sound, this nation is secure, this nation is on the march to full economic recovery and a better quality of life for all Americans.


MALE NARRATOR: It wasn't that way two years ago, but in one of our darkest hours America suddenly had a new kind of President.

FORD: I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your President by your ballots. So I ask you to confirm me as your President with your prayers.

MALE NARRATOR: A new leader who had not sought the job but was prepared for it. A tough man when he had to be. But above all, a decent man, who from his first hours has worked to restore the honor of the White House.

FORD: When I came to this Oval Office I tried to get people to speak up to me even though they disagreed. I tried to make the atmosphere in the Oval Office more relaxed rather than austere and, I just wouldn't be comfortable making people snap to just because I'm President. So the net result is, I think we have certainly created in the Ford Administration a non-imperial Presidency.

O'DONNELL: He, uh, likes to have the people on different sides of the issue in front of him in the office.

[TEXT: TERRRY O'DONNELL: Appointments Secretary]

He sits back and listens and relaxes and, uh, at the end of that, he is, feels he's much closer to the issue that must be decided than if he were merely to look at a piece of paper.

[TEXT: WILLIAM COLEMAN: Secretary of Transportation]

COLEMAN: There's one issue which I disagreed on, and it's clear that's the issue of, of, uh, of busing. I mean, my feeling is different from that of the other people in the Administration. But once again I had the feeling that, that the President has taken my views into full consideration, and weighing them I, I can't say that his conclusion is wrong.

O'DONNELL (voice-over): He sets a very high standard and he does it in a way that is not objectionable or abrasive. He doesn't have to, uh, to holler or throw books to let a person know that they haven't performed up to the standard that he expects.

MALE NARRATOR: This new and quiet style of leadership has not just ended a decade of tension between the people and their President. It's helped create a new optimism about America. Firm leadership against the Congress has helped bring inflation down. Steady leadership has helped produce four million jobs in seventeen months. Decisive leadership has helped achieve a world at peace. Calm, dependable leadership has helped build a nation at peace.

FORD: By keeping our cool and, uh, working a good many hours, we've gotten it all turned around. I think we'll do better with the Congress in the next two years. We certainly are doing better with the economy. We don't have any military conflicts to, uh, uh, take our mind off of making a better quality of life here in the United States for 215 million Americans. We're on the brink in this country, in my opinion, because we did good things, made tough decisions in the last two and a half years, and I want to be President when we can really blossom in this, uh, new era, the new third century of America.


MALE NARRATOR: Forceful, as with the vetoes, bold as with the Mayaguays, but always the power of the office tempered by the decency of the man. He's making us proud again.

FORD: And right now I predict that the American people are going to say that night, "Jerry, you've done a good job. Keep right on doing it."



"Leadership," President Ford Committee, 1976

Maker: Bailey/Deardourff

Original air date: 09/22/76

From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012.
www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1976/leadership (accessed June 21, 2024).


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1976 Carter Ford Results

On August 9, 1974, after a Senate investigation revealed his direct involvement in the cover-up of the Watergate break-in, Richard Nixon became the first president in American history to resign from office. Nixon was succeeded by Gerald Ford, who had been appointed vice president after a bribery scandal forced Spiro Agnew’s resignation in October 1973. These scandals and the televised Watergate hearings, which resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of 25 Nixon administration officials, shattered the public's trust in the government. In a 1974 poll, 43 percent of respondents said that they had "hardly any" faith in the executive branch. As a result, the 1976 election was dominated by issues of integrity and character. Hoping to put the Watergate affair to rest, President Ford unconditionally pardoned Nixon in September 1974, but the move hurt Ford’s political standing. Ford won the Republican nomination only after fighting off a strong challenge from Ronald Reagan.

The Democrats nominated Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, a former naval officer and peanut farmer. Carter, who promised, "I will never tell a lie to the American people," ran a brilliant campaign as an outsider, offering a fresh change from Washington politics as usual.

Jimmy Carter for president
Walter Mondale for vice president

"Leadership for a Change"

Jimmy Carter was campaigning to become the first president from the Deep South since 1849. His ads, created by Atlanta advertising executive Gerald Rafshoon, skillfully made use of his heritage. They portrayed him as honest, hardworking, untainted by Washington politics, and almost mythically connected to America’s agricultural past--a non-lawyer who knew the value of manual labor. His campaign is best summarized by the five-minute biographical spot that shows him in work clothes walking through a peanut field, and includes interviews with his colorful family.

Yet establishing a farming background was not enough to qualify a candidate for the presidency. As the campaign progressed, Carter was made to look more and more presidential. Having emphasized his southern roots in his early ads, Carter appeared in a series of spots, produced late in the campaign, in a formal indoor setting wearing a suit and tie.

Gerald Ford for president
Robert Dole for vice president

"He’s Making Us Proud Again"

As a candidate, President Ford was in the unenviable position of being the incumbent at a time when Americans had lost their faith in the presidency. Not surprisingly, Ford’s ads pictured him as a different kind of leader from Richard Nixon. They consistently portrayed him as a regular guy and a nonimperial president. Spots filmed inside the White House showed him dressed casually, with an open collar and no tie. They also claimed that Ford was responsible for turning the country around and leading it out of the Watergate nightmare.

With the Vietnam war over, inflation beginning to ease, and the country in its bicentennial year, the Ford campaign produced a series of ads showing a montage of happy Americans accompanied by an upbeat song featuring the lyrics, "I’m feeling good about America, I’m feeling good about me."

Largely because of his pardon of Nixon, Ford found himself trailing in the polls through much of the campaign. As a result, the Republicans ran ads that capitalized on voters' doubts about the relatively unknown Jimmy Carter. In one series of man-in-the-street ads filmed in Atlanta, the Georgia voters who were presumably most familiar with Carter criticized his record as governor. Carter would use the same technique during his 1980 campaign against former California Governor Ronald Reagan.

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