Mississippi played major role in Ford’s nomination

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, January 3, 2007

As the nation this weekend reflects on the death of PresidentGerald Ford, some might want to remember the ties Mississippi hadto the former president and how much influence this state was tohis Republican nomination in 1976.

As a college student, I along with fellow Brookhavenite AntonReel Jr. attended the Kansas City convention where Ford wasnominated. Reel was working on the Ford campaign and myself, anaspiring student journalist with press credentials, went along forthe ride.

Naive of the inter workings of Mississippi politics, I foundmyself in the middle of a major Mississippi political dispute asthe state’s 30 delegates were split between President Ford and aCalifornia governor named Ronald Reagan. Elsewhere on this page,Sid Salter explains the nuts and bolts of the Mississippicontroversy, so let me add the other side of the story.

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Mississippi carried the vital swing vote for the nomination andthus, anyone and everyone from Mississippi who happened to be inKansas City was a VIP, as the Ford and Reagan campaigns were wooinganyone from the state in hopes of swaying votes.

At any political convention, political buttons are an importantpart of the process.

We Mississippians proudly wore a special Magnolia pin. And as wefound out in the days leading up to the Friday night nominationvote, those Mississippi pins opened doors.

If one needed something such as a ride somewhere – and rideswere needed because the convention hotels were spread across theentire city – all it took was a phone call to one of the campaigncamps and a cab or limousine was sent to your door. Walk into ahotel lobby at either of the campaign headquarters and a pathopened for you.

It was heady stuff for a young college student. Starry-eyed, Iwalked among national political leaders of the day, as security waslimited so everyone was accessible.

Back at the Mississippi delegation hotel, the pace was hectic asthe delegation caucused back and forth between the Reagan and Fordfolks. A young fellow named Haley Barbour introduced himself tome.

Reel got me into a strategy session in a hotel room prior to theFriday night vote. I just stood there watching the arm-twisting anddeal-making.

On the way to the convention, I tagged along on the Mississippidelegate bus and found myself sitting among state Republicanheavyweights Billy Mounger, Clarke Reed and state chairman Barbour.Although now a bit more in tune, little did I understand the impactMississippi was about to have on national politics in the next fewhours ahead.

In the convention hall, tensions were high as the state-by-stateroll call began. Sitting a few rows above me were President Ford’sfamily members.

As Mississippi’s turn to vote approached, I remember watching inawe and pride as the Ford family stood yelling “Go Mississippi, GoMississippi, Go Mississippi!” while the convention hall erupted incheers.

Down below on the floor in the Mississippi delegate area, thecontroversy was coming to a head as a decision was made to goagainst a Reagan favored “unit rule,” giving Ford thenomination.

Ford eventually lost the election to political unknown JimmyCarter. But the Mississippi vote that night set a political stagethat continues to be played out today.

Write to Bill Jacobs at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven MS 39602,or send e-mail to bjacobs@dailyleader.com.