In November 1979, Florida Republicans held Presidency I, featuring a battle between a former Texas governor, a former California governor, a moderate Tenessee senator, a hard-right Illinois congressman and a former Texas congressman.
Seems like little has changed since 1979, where this week's Presidency 5, features a Texas governor, a former Massachusetts governor, a moderate former Utah governor, a hard-right Minnesota congresswoman and a Texas congressman.
Presidency I, was a huge national media event with the candidates, Ronald Reagan, John Connally, Howard Baker, Phil Crane and George Bush, going all out in their effort to build momentum for their campaigns.
Connally was the guy with all the swagger and the money. He was raising boatloads of dough and being from Texas many believed he would be a formidable candidate.
But Connally would have to overtake the guy who had been running for president for years -Reagan. The conventional wisdom of the day was that voters would never elect an "actor" to be president.
(An aside: In 1980, while standing near Reagan while he was doing a television interview in New Hampshire, Jack Germond, once a titan of the political press, leaned over and said to me - "I know he will never be president but I'm not sure what state is going to stop him." It was a valuable lesson for a young political reporter about the worth of conventional wisdom).
Reagan handily defeated Connally in the straw poll - 483 to 354. Bush finished third. Crane came in fourth.
Connally hoped to win the straw ballot. His campaign strategy was to lock up the GOP nomination by winning the March 11, 1980 Florida primary.
From the Washington Post's David Broder:
Connally conceded that "we didn't come quite as close as I though we might, but we built a good organization. If anyone is going to stop Reagan, it's still going to be me."
Eddie Mahe, Connaly's campaign manager, said, "The Reagan vote held solid. We were never able to touch it."
Connally had invested heavily in time and money in hopes of derailing Reagan in this preliminary test in a state whose March 11 primary is the focus of Connally's southern stragegy.
. . .
Earlier in the week, at a New York City news conference. Reagan had said that the Florida straw poll was "Meaningless," and he essentially agreed with that position today.
"It's meaningless in the sense of having any bearing on the primary," Reagan said. ". . . it wasn't a scientific poll -- it was kind of a lottery but even so, it's always nice to win."
. . .
Crane, whose Florida backers had been instrumental in promoting the straw vote, was the fourth speaker, and delivered a stemwinder accusing the Democrats of "putting their faith in government, not God." Predicting that the GOP "is on the verge of becoming the new majority party," Crane urged Republicans to preach the "self-evident truth that government does nothing well."
Bush may not have won Presidency I, but we hear the family did okay.
Tomorrow - Presidency II.
Art by West Palm Beach artist Patrick Crowley
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