How Republicans might sink Obama
In 1976, they nearly beat Carter with the fear card.
A fresh-faced Democratic presidential candidate promising change. An economy in turmoil. A nation soured on Republican rule.Skip to next paragraph
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It sounds like a recipe for a big win for Sen. Barack Obama this November. It also sounds a lot like the 1976 campaign, which I covered as White House correspondent for the Associated Press. And if history is any guide, don't count the GOP out just yet.
In August 1976, after winning the Republican nomination in Kansas City, Mo., Gerald Ford invited GOP VIPs to his summer retreat in Vail, Colo., to plot strategy for the November election against Jimmy Carter, who at that time enjoyed a nearly insurmountable advantage in opinion polls. Indeed, as summer peaked, Mr. Carter was doubling Ford's support in surveys – capturing nearly 70 percent.
Yet there they stood: Ford, his vice presidential nominee Bob Dole, Nelson Rockefeller, a line of Republican biggies that seemed to stretch across the golf course where they assembled, all mouthing banalities about how the GOP could come from behind and win.
At the far end stood John Connally, the Democrat turned Republican who, in his extemporaneous remarks, laid out a strategy for miraculously closing that huge gap in the polls.
It is the same strategy Republicans could use well to defeat Senator Obama should his current momentum propel him to win the Democratic presidential nomination.
Last in line, and almost as an afterthought, the clever Mr. Connally feigned indignation and effectively asked, "Who is this Jimmy Carter? We don't know anything about him!"
It was a brilliant soliloquy aimed at planting doubts in voters' minds. Connally, so ably schooled in Texas politics, continued that theme for the next five minutes, dismantling Carter's promises of change and hope. The former Texas governor skillfully set the tone for the entire post- Labor Day Republican election campaign.
Weekly, Carter's numbers began to drop. It was so simple. Sow doubt and fear about the outsider from Georgia, the newcomer, inexperienced in international affairs in the age of the Soviet Union. Connally nurtured skepticism about Carter's ability to lead America out of the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate traumas.