When Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) told his mother in the summer of 1974 that he was going to run for President, she said, "President of what?" His brother Billy was more impressed. "I'll be damned!" he exclaimed. "Jimmy's sure bit off a hunk this time," he told his wife that evening, adding: "But he might just do it." 1 Carter made his candidacy official in December 1975, but the silence following his announcement was spectacular. "Carter?" snorted one editor to a reporter who suggested interviewing him. "Running for President? Nobody's every heard of him. It's a joke. Go ahead and do the interview, but keep it short." Before long, however, people who had been sneering, "Jimmy who?" found that they had to take him seriously. 2
Carter presented himself as an outsider in 1976. The issue, he said, was the division between "insiders" and "outsiders." "I have been accused of being an outsider," he declared. "I plead guilty. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans . . . are also outsiders." 3 Carter was not as much of an outsider as he claimed, and his social views were fairly conventional. Still, he had what his campaign manager called a "weirdo factor." 4 He was from the Deep South: the first President (if we exclude Wilson, who had resettled in the North) from that region since Zachary Taylor. He was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy: the first Annapolis man in the White House. And he was devoutly religious: a born-again southern Baptist.