1976 Flag of the United States 1984
United States Presidential election, 1980
November 1980
Shannon3 Carter
Candidate Elizabeth Shannon Jimmy Carter
Party National Democratic
Running mate Robert Redford Thomas O'Malley
Electoral vote 579 29
Popular vote 54,456,670
Percentage 57.4 43.6
1980 Election NW
Red indicates Shannon/Redford, Blue indicates Carter/O'Malley

The United States Presidential election of 1980 featured a contest between Vice President Jimmy Carter of the Democratic Party and Michigan Governor Elizabeth Shannon of the National Party. Shannon won in a landslide, winning 55% of the popular vote and beating Carter 579-29 in the electoral college, making it the biggest landslide of the 20th century and giving Shannon the most electoral votes of any candidate in history. It was significant as it was only the second time in sixteen years (the other time being 1964) in which an incumbent one-term President chose not to seek reelection. It also marked the fifth victory in a Presidential election by a Nationalist candidate in the past six elections (dating back to 1960) and the first time a woman ran as the primary candidate on the ticket, and also elevated Shannon as the first female President of America and only the third democratically elected female leader in an industrialized country in history.


While Adam Eisler had won a partial mandate after his 1976 election victory over Nationalist incumbent Clyde Dawley, his rapid institution of a variety of programs drew the ire from many social conservatives within his own party and economic conservatives among the Nationalists. The Brazilian War started in 1978 under Eisler's go-ahead and was escalated throughout 1979, following Eisler's assassination on September 1st, 1978. His successor, Neill Wallace, was hardly the charismatic leader that Eisler had been, but rode the national grief over the tragedy to lead the Democrats through a surprisingly successful 1978 midterm election in which they held control of both houses of Congress.

Wallace, however, fumbled in 1979 in his handling of two simultaneous crises - the escalation of the Brazilian War resulted in the institution of an unpopular draft in America, and in May of 1979 the US stock market suffered one of its biggest collapses, losing almost 20% of its value over the course of four days in what was often referred to as the Meltdown of '79, which brought the otherwise enormously prosperous 1970's to a close. With the resulting economic depression only growing worse and the death toll rising in Brazil, the outlook for Democrats in 1980 looked bleak. In early 1980, Wallace announced that he would not seek reelection, instead deciding to retire after having served out his predecessor's term.


Democratic Party

With Wallace out of the picture, the Democrats scrambled to find somebody to take his place. With few candidates wanting to take on the Nationalists in what was clearly going to be a heavy, heavy loss, Vice President Jimmy Carter offered himself as the lead candidate. He had been a largely low-profile member of the Wallace administration and, having previously been the Governor of Georgia, was publicly known to strongly dislike the machinations of the Congress. His only real opposition had been House Majority Whip Peter Kent, who withdrew from the race after losing the Mississippi primary to Carter. With no other Democratic candidates running against him, Carter was assured of the nomination as early as mid-February.

National Party

The 1980 election is often compared to the 1964 race due to the surprising emergence of a dark horse to win the nomination and, soon thereafter, election from within the ranks of the National Party. Since 1976, the clear frontrunner for the 1980 nomination and probably the Presidency had been Hugh Veinklasser, a social and economic conservative icon who had been Governor of Virginia for fourteen years (Virginia would institute term limits starting in 1982, when Veinklasser finished his final term). He had been unsucessful in his bid for the Presidency in 1972, when Clyde Dawley was considered the party stalwart, and had been viewing the 1980 nomination as his right since losing in the '72 primaries.

He faced, however, a formidable field of opponents:

  • Robert Redford, the former Governor of California, who was young, energetic and attractive, and had run the largest state in the Union successfully for seven years despite his youth after his predecessor was ousted by a scandal. Redford was seen as the biggest serious challenge to Veinklasser.
  • Dimitri Johnson, a half-Alaskan Senator from Ohio. He was a centrist Nationalist who had friends in powerful, typically pro-Democratic labor unions.
  • Elizabeth Shannon, the first female Governor of Michigan and a noted social and economic conservative who promoted a strong message of "Move On," throughout her early campaign. Shannon's campaign had really begun building steam throughout 1979 when she pointed to her son serving in Brazil and the hardships her state faced throughout the early stages of the depression.
  • Dennis Dooley, a former Senator from Iowa.
  • George Bush, a former Congressman from Texas (1961-70), the Ambassador to Turkey from 1970 to 1973, the CIA Director from 1974 to 1977, and the son of former President and wealthy financier Prescott S. Bush.

With the field scattered between name-brand candidates such as Veinklasser and Bush, telegenic and popular centrists such as Redford and Shannon, and candidates with broad appeal to independents such as Johnson and Dooley, the six-way race promised to be an exciting matchup.

Veinklasser did not start campaigning in earnest until late in 1979, feeling that his national base would likely afford him an easy primary win. The first primary of 1980, a caucus in Aroostook, was held on January 30th. Redford took a commanding first-place lead, with Veinklasser and Shannon earning just about the same number of votes. At this point, Redford declared that he had "the Big Mo" (as in momentum) and pushed on towards the Florida primary, which was one of the first big indicators of the primary season. After failing to earn higher than fifth-place in a New England state, where the Bush family was from, George Bush withdrew from the race on February 1st. On February 3rd, Redford won a razor-thin victory over Shannon in Florida, with Veinklasser again far behind and both Dooley and Johnson netting barely any votes. Dooley dropped out of the race and in a surprise move, endorsed Shannon.

Shannon's campaign had been built largely on her appeal to independent voters and economic conservatives. While her support of women's rights groups was questioned by some social conservatives, Shannon promised that matters pertaining to their concerns would be defended by the state and not the federal government.

The game-changing moment in the Shannon campaign came when in the third primary, in Ohio, she won by a wide margin thanks to her appeal as a Midwesterner centrist. Veinklasser had not won a single primary by the time Super Tuesday came around on February 20th. Shannon and Redford split the twenty states holding primaries and remained neck-in-neck in the delegate count, while Veinklasser grudgingly dropped out, having attained an image as a grumpy, patronizing old man in the only debate held between primary candidates.

Shannon and Redford agreed to debate in Minneapolis on February 24th, two days before Shannon defeated Redford in Arkansas and Minnesota. The debate was noted for its civility and host Ronald Reagan afterwards said, "We're lucky to have such strong candidates."

However, Shannon's appearance on the Ronald Reagan Show the following week found the iconic pundit much less kind towards her. Reagan grilled Shannon and a national television audience watched as Shannon curtly defended herself and then went on the offensive against Reagan. After she left the show, Reagan said, "I have never been as impressed by a guest on this program as I was tonight. I came into this program with doubts as to the candidacy of Mrs. Shannon. I was unsure that she was a better option than Governor Redford. I was proven wrong. America would be lucky and privileged to elect a leader of her caliber, intelligence and integrity. I look forward to one day calling her, "Mrs. President."

The endorsement from Reagan and her performance on his show boosted Shannon's stock enormously, and in March she dominated the primaries. However, Redford grabbed three big-ticket states in Pennsylvania, Peninsula and California in the end of March, giving Shannon only a narrow lead in delegates. The last three big-prize states were Cuba, New York and Texas, all holding their primaries on April 9th. On April 7th, former US President and then-Senator Dick Van Dyke gave Shannon a stirring endorsement at a luncheon in San Francisco, and two days later Shannon took New York and Texas while Redford won Cuba to carry her to a commanding delegate lead. Her victories in Iowa and Washington soon thereafter made Redford catching up to her delegate count with remaining small states a mathematical unlikelihood, so he dropped out of the race and encouraged those who endorsed him, including former President Clyde Dawley and former opponents Bush and Veinklasser, to endorse Shannon.

Shannon, now guaranteed of being the first woman to head a major-party ticket, entered the National Party Convention in Chicago to a fanfare of the celebration of the "glass ceiling being shattered." At the convention, Shannon asked Redford to be her running mate, which he readily agreed to, and the Shannon-Redford ticket was nominated on the first ballot and came out of their convention with an eleven-point lead over the Jimmy Carter-Thomas O'Malley ticket in most polls.

General Election Campaign

Carter lagged in the polls but had the power of incumbency, and seemed to enjoy a bit of a distancing from the unpopular Eisler-era politics and a noticeable distance between himself and President Neill Wallace. Carter made sure to portray himself as a centrist Washington outsider, who was fulfilling his capacities as Vice President due to the call of duty following the assassination of Eisler. In O'Malley, he had an experienced liberal presence on his ticket to take on the centrist National Party ticket.

Shannon, meanwhile, continued to be dogged by questions about her ability to lead due to her gender. She was aided enormously by her husband Roger Shannon, who was a respected businessman and an excellent public speaker who proved invaluable on the campaign trail. She was also assisted by a national tide of distaste for the Wallace/Carter administration and the current economic situation and Brazilian War.

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