Baker: Texan changed 'horses'
Washington — James Baker is going to do what his candidates, Gerald Ford in 1976 and George Bush in 1980, couldn't -- make it into the White house. He will be President Ronald Reagan's chief of staff as of Jan. 20, when the former California governor is sworn in.
It was political operative Baker who picked up the final 200 or so delegates Mr. Ford needed to edge out Mr. Reagan for the Republican presidential nomination in 1976. But Ford was edged out by Jimmy Carter, and Baker's effort to turn Mr. bush into a president fell short when Reagan caught up with and passed the early GOP front-runner.
Nevertheless, Bush thinks there's no better political planner and implementer in the business than Jim Baker -- and that's what he told Reagan after accepting the vice-presidential spot on the Republican ticket.
So Reagan took on Baker as a senior adviser during the campaign. And before long Baker was distinguishing himself.
"He's got a long head," one top Reagan aide says of Baker and his sound judgment. "And he's very discreet."
Baker headed the team that negotiated with the Carter team on if and when to debate, and another Reagan aide credits the Texan with "suckering" the reluctant President into a TV confrontation that "may have cost him the election."
Baker, who served as a Marine Corps lieutenant from 1952-54 after graduating from Princeton, took his law degree at the University of Texas in 1957. He became associated with the large law firm of Andres, Kurth, Campbell & Jones in Houston.
Appointed as undersecretary of the US Department of Commerce in August 1975, he served in that capacity until May 1976, when he became a delegate hunter for President Ford.
Baker once sought elective office, running unsuccessfully in 1978 as the GOP candidate for attorney general of Texas.
An avid tennis player, Baker also enjoys hunting and fishing.
Mr. and Mrs. Baker (the former Susan Garrett) reside in Houston with their eight children. Now, of course, the Baker "tribe" will be moving to Washington.