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Rise to the Presidency

Until the age of fifty-one, Ronald Reagan was a Democrat, as his father had been. In 1962, however, he joined the Republican Party. This change in party identity resulted from his growing attachment to conservative political ideas such as strict constitutional limits on the power of government, unfettered freedom of economic enterprise, and ordered liberty. In 1964, Ronald Reagan strongly favored the presidential candidacy of conservative Republican Barry Goldwater and agreed to make a nationally televised speech for him. Although Goldwater lost the presidential election to his Democratic Party opponent Lyndon B. Johnson, Ronald Reagan won a large following among Republicans, who responded enthusiastically. Ronald Reagan's speech, called "A Time for Choosing," sparked his rapid rise to political prominence and pursuit of America's highest office, the presidency.

reagan rise to the presidency

How did Ronald Reagan gain the support of the American public and attract national attention?

Before he could seriously contend for the presidency, Ronald Reagan needed to prove his capacity for executive leadership in government. He won two terms as governor of California, serving from 1967 to 1975. His performance in office attracted national attention. Thus, he decided to seek the Republican Party's nomination in the presidential election of 1976. His opponent was the incumbent Gerald Ford, who had succeeded to the presidency after Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 because of his connection to the Watergate scandal. Gerald Ford barely defeated Ronald Reagan to win the Republican Party nomination. However, after Democrat Jimmy Carter defeated President Ford, Ronald Reagan decided to pursue the presidency again in 1980.

The biggest barrier in Ronald Reagan's path to the presidency was public concern about his age. In 1976, he was sixty-five years old. If elected president in 1980, he would be the oldest person to serve in the office. His vitality during public appearances, however, countered the age issue. Another pressing problem was Ronald Reagan's need to maintain contact with the public prior to the 1980 presidential election campaign. He met this challenge by continuing a strategy begun in 1975. Ronald Reagan produced a brief radio program, aired five days each week, to broadcast nationally his views on current events and issues. He also wrote a biweekly editorial published in more than two hundred newspaper opinion pages across the country and presented several speeches each month to audiences across America. Thus, Ronald Reagan built a positive public image among a growing number of voters.

After vigorous competition against several formidable opponents, Ronald Reagan won the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 1980. George H.W. Bush accepted Ronald Reagan's invitation to join him as the Republican candidate for vice president. Ronald Reagan then campaigned against his Democratic Party opponent, the incumbent president Jimmy Carter, and a third-party candidate, liberal Republican John Anderson, who sought the presidency as an independent. Ronald Reagan contrasted his conservatism with the liberalism of his two opponents, claiming he intended to conserve the core principles of America's founders and use them to solve current problems. And he charged President Carter with failure to halt the decline of American power and prestige in the world.

Ronald Reagan blamed President Carter's administration for America's stagnant economy, plagued by high unemployment, rising prices, and a declining standard of living. A main theme of his campaign was to ask the voters if they were better off in 1980 than four years earlier, when Jimmy Carter became president. Ronald Reagan won a landslide victory. Many independents and a significant number of Democrats joined Republican voters in electing Ronald Reagan to be the fortieth president of the United States.





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