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Barry Goldwater announced before the 1972 election that he wouldn't seek a third term. This left the gap open for a potential successor. Vice President Gerald Ford seemed like the obvious choice. He announced his intention to run in March 1975. California governor Ronald Reagan was another front runner, along with former Texas governor John Connally.Ford performed well during the first three primaries in 1976. However, Reagan won the next seven. Reagan was able to win small majoritys in small states and performed well in the deep south. Ford was able to win over the west coast liberals and the moderate north, but was unable to gain support from conservatives, however he did win a majority in the popular vote. Primary the results were as follows:
Reagan - 35 states (7,237,446)
Ford - 23 states (7,853,312)
Connally - two states (646,302)
Due to Republican party tradition a candidate that won a majority of states and in the popular vote would win the nomination. However, for the first time since the primary system was adopted, different candidates held different majoritys. The balloting system was resorted to.
Reagan held a majority on the last eight ballots, however the number of delegates needed for a victory had been set at 6000. Although Reagan had a very clear majority in the last six ballots he was prevented from victory by a series of old conservative delegates who were very loyal to President Goldwater. The chairman of the convention asked Goldwater to endorse Reagan just to unite the party and prevent a split. Goldwater reluctantly accepted and after the eighth ballot declared his support for Reagan. Reagan won on the 11th ballot.
Defieing many liberal republicans, Reagan chose conservative Kansas senator Bob Dole as his running mate. Dole and Reagan launched a strong campaign against the Democrats.
The Democratic nomination was another bitter battle. The three front runners were Georgian Governor James Carter, Ohio senator and former astronaut John Glenn and Alabama Governor George Wallace. Carter was a fresh face, compared to Wallace, the experienced campaigner who was now running for the third time. In the primaries Wallace was able to hold the deep southern states of Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and his home state of Alabama (which he won by a 85% landslide), Glenn did well in his home state of Ohio, but was accused of lacking political experience. Carter was able to win in Carolina and Georgia early on in the race, and gradually built up momentum. Carter was popular in the south due to him being from Georgia, he was also popular in the north due to his moderate, liberal leaning views. But Carter lacked support in the west coast, where late candidate Jerry Brown was able to gain California. Without California Carter just lacked the number of votes needed to secure absolute nomination.
The Democratic convention was held in New York in July, Carter was able to form an alliance with Glenn in return for Glenn being made Carter's running mate, were he to win the nomination. With Glenn's support Carter was able to win the nomination. However, he was still very unpopular with many moderate west coast Democrats.