Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times quotes my book in a front-page story about Lenore Romney’s 1970 race for the U.S. Senate. The accompanying video has some great clips of Mitt Romney’s mother from her appearances as a candidate and first lady in Michigan in the 1962-70 vintage.
Monthly Archives: February 2012
As the Republican presidential primary race has unfolded this year, commentators have noted that all the campaign contributions and televised ads mean little if a candidate doesn’t have an organization. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for example, failed to meet the somewhat stringent requirements to get on the Republican presidential primary ballot in Virginia, the state where he now lives.
President Gerald R. Ford nearly suffered the same fate in 1976. The Ford campaign, it turns out, came very close to missing the filing deadline for the Republican presidential primary in Michigan, Ford’s home state.
The little-known story turns up in the personal papers of Elly Peterson, the moderate Republican leader who is the subject of my recent book, Elly Peterson: ‘Mother’ of the Moderates. Peter Fletcher, then the Republican national committeeman from Michigan, also recounted it when he provided a videotaped oral history for the Michigan Political History Society. On March 15, 1976, four days before the primary’s filing deadline, Fletcher discovered that the Ford campaign had failed to file the necessary papers to get the incumbent president’s name on the Michigan primary ballot.
Peterson was an old friend of Fletcher’s; at that point, she was serving as the volunteer co-chair of ERAmerica, but had not yet been recruited to join the Ford campaign. Fletcher wrote and told her that when he had tried to alert the President Ford Committee, “the big legal brains said I was wrong. Sent them back to their law books and they called back confessing I was right.” Fletcher was asked to go to Detroit Metropolitan Airport and wait so that he could hand-deliver the appropriate papers after they arrived on a plane. He told Peterson they never arrived. He concluded cynically: “Renews my confidence in the strong hands of leadership in which we have entrusted the future of our nation.” Fletcher eventually received the affidavits, and said he delivered them with only two hours to spare.
Ford’s name went on the ballot, and he beat Ronald Reagan in the May 18 primary by a margin of 2 to 1, stemming a tide of primary defeats that might have ended his presidential election hopes right there. That night, he captured 55 delegates to 29 for Reagan. Reagan eventually lost at the convention by a margin of 1,187 delegates for Ford to 1,070 for Reagan. If Reagan had captured all 84 Michigan delegates in that topsy-turvy campaign year, it might have made the decisive difference in the race.
Stuart Spencer, deputy chairman of the Ford campaign, later said, “I have always maintained—and a lot of his right-wing friends think I am nuts—that Reagan was lucky he got beaten in the 1976 primaries. He would not have won that race: Jimmy Carter was going to carry the South, and without the South, Reagan could not have won in 1976. But come 1980, after Carter had basically had a bad presidency, Reagan was the beneficiary. He has always been a lucky politician.”
As this year’s Republican primary battle drags on, actually being on the ballot becomes more and more critical.
Every now and then, I wish that Elly Peterson were still alive so that we could swap observations about the world in general and politics in particular.
She had just turned 92 when I began work on my book, too old, she readily acknowledged, to be Internet savvy. She relied on a niece to print out e-mail messages from her friends, but still read avidly and watched a steady stream of cable news shows. Still, her strong personality and sense of humor came through in the letters we exchanged, and I got to experience both first-hand during three days of interviews that I conducted with her in 2006.
So I’m imagining the look on her face if I told her that contraception has emerged as a big issue in this year’s Michigan GOP presidential primary. Or, if she discovered that the Virginia General Assembly is now arguing over whether to require women who want an abortion to submit to something called a “transvaginal sonogram.”
First, I’m sure she would say, “A what?” Until I saw the curling iron-sized device on The Daily Show the other night, I might have had a similar reaction. I’ve had a couple of sonograms in my time, but never one as invasive as the one envisioned by the Republicans in the General Assembly, being that I am, ahem, beyond the age of child-bearing. Continue reading