Carters recall 1976 Campaign on Presidents Day
By LISA LAW
PLAINS — As part of the National Park Service’s Centennial Celebration, Presidents Day was observed Monday at the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site. Guest speakers former President Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter. The Plains High School Museum was overflowing with over 300 people who had gathered, young and old, and eager to hear the former president and his wife speak of their personal experiences relating to their 1976 Presidential Campaign and Election.
President Carter reminisced of the beginnings of his run for president. He said he didn’t know what to expect and they had very little money, but lots of wonderful friends and supporters. He said he remembers sitting on the back porch of the Governor’s Mansion and Dean Rusk, who had been Secretary of State under two presidents, and an intimate family member of the Kennedy family, approached Carter with the statement.
“I think you ought to run for president,” Carter said, explaining it was shortly after Rusk’s statement that he decided to run for president.
According to the Carters, it was a journey of discovery and of learning the ropes of the campaign. Carter said in the beginning they would often seek out reporters with their scratch pads and jump at any chance of getting radio and television coverage. He said one of his memories was of his friend Jody Powell, press secretary, who aided him greatly early on in his campaign.
Carter said he and Powell would often sleep at supporters’ homes because there were little funds; however, on one of those nights when they slept at a hotel, Powell, who was a terrible snorer, would have a drink before he went to sleep and Carter said he would try to get to the hotel before Powelll to try and get to sleep before he started snoring.
“He came in, and I was half asleep, to tell me we were going to be on television tomorrow,” he said, explaining that the next morning on the way to the TV station he questioned Powell about the show.
“I asked, ‘What kind of program is it?’” and Powell would not answer him. Then Carter asked him again more sternly, “What kind of program is it?” and Powell answered him with a question, “Do you have any favorite recipes?,” said Carte, as the crowds’ laughter filled the auditorium, explaining the television program was a cooking show and he had to share his favorite rough fish cooking recipe.
Carter said while the other presidential candidates were worried about campaigning in Washington he, Rosalynn and members of the Peanut Brigade, which was growing everyday, were hot and heavy on the campaign trail.
“Most of the other candidates didn’t pay any attention to me because I was from the Deep South,” said Carter, explaining that the Peanut Brigade was comprised of people from Georgia who followed them along the trail campaigning even in the depths of the snow covered northern states.
“They would say, ‘We know Jimmy Carter and we hope you will vote for him,” said Carter, with an expression of gratitude for his supporters. Carter said he won first in Iowa, and then New Hampshire and then eventually took Florida. Overall, Carter said he was never surprised and always confident that he would win, even though he was met with indifference at times, especially by an organization called the “ABCs” which followed them from state to state, “Anybody but Carter.”
Rosalynn Carter spoke favorably of her memories, saying she didn’t know what to expect at first, but she always had her questions ready for her interviews. She said she remembered having to cut a peanut butter pound cake that she hadn’t made and it was awful. She also mentioned how she found radio was of great importance.
“Someone would say when they met me in person, ‘I heard you on the radio and I was hoping I would see you,’ she said, adding she was at a Rotary Club meeting with her friend Edna Langford while campaigning and she ended up making a speech. Another event was when a huge crowd of people had gathered around pickup trucks at a weekly cattle sale. She said it was a cattle association out of Florida having an auction.
“They stopped the auction and I made my speech and after my speech they continued the sale,” she said. “We would often have our picture on the front page of the newspapers, without our names or who we were, so we eventually started holding up a bumper sticker with Jimmy Carter written on it.”
The former first lady also said another memory of visiting the fire stations.
“We often stopped at the fire stations; they cook the best breakfasts … ” she said.
On a serious note, the couple answered questions from eighth-grade students from Mayetta, Kansas, Royal Valley Middle School and Boise, Idaho.
One student, Chance Tyler Lyming, asked, “Mr. President and first lady, out of the 200 speeches, which one were and are the most memorable or important to you?”
Carter answered with the General Ford Debates. He said there was never a direct confrontation and they were always polite to each other and never tried to destroy the reputation of another candidate.
Another student, Kain Austin Fink, asked Carter, “What was his biggest challenge to overcome?”
He answered with the challenge of him being from the South and with proving he wasn’t racist.
A student, Hannah Rene Lieng, asked Rosalynn Carter.
“How was your relationship with your husband affected by the presidential campaign?
She responded, “I felt it drew us closer together. We were separated for 18 months during the campaign. I always felt like he could not have won without me,” she said with laughter.
Carter added to his wife’s reply with, “We used the wisdom and advise of each other throughout; we will be married 70 years next July,” he said to applause.
Another question was, “How has campaigning changed from when you ran and today? How can we combat ‘Big Money’ in politics?”
Carter responded, “There is dissatisfaction with the government today, with 100 billions of dollars being raised for campaigns and the country becoming polarized.”
He said we have the poorest democratic system in the world, primarily because of money. He also said, he never tried to destroy his components.
“I was a governor of a great state. I was a farmer and I wasn’t a lawyer,” he said as the laughs vibrated again through the audience.
Overall, Carter advised the audience to get involved in politics, and to always be honest.
“It takes a lot of political courage to always tell the truth,” he said, adding that being honest to the people was a very important aspect of his campaign.
After the event, the Carters held book signings for members of the audience who wished to have their books autographed.