A Republican Perspective
Richard B. Cheney
The concept of debates between President Ford and Governor Carter was an integral part of the Ford general election campaign strategy in 1976. The decision to challenge Governor Carter to debate was based on the unique set of circumstances the Ford campaign faced in the summer of 1976 and on the experiences of the candidate and campaign staff in the contest for the Republican presidential nomination.
At the beginning of 1976, President Ford began his campaign for reelection in an unusual situation for an incumbent. As a result of his having come to power under the Twenty-fifth Amendment, his name had never appeared on a ballot outside the Fifth Congressional District of Michigan. Since no national Ford organization was in place from a prior campaign, one had to be built, especially in key primary states.
Though the economy was improving, the nation was still experiencing the residue of high unemployment and high inflation after having weathered the worst recession in decades. The economic situation, the legacy of Watergate, and the Nixon pardon had served to erode the President's standing with the public. His approval rating, as measured by Gallup, had fallen sharply from August of 1974 to below 40 percent in the spring of 1975. It rose above 50 percent briefly at the time of the Mayaguez incident in the summer of that year but remained well under 50 percent throughout the rest of 1975.
In November, one year before the election, former Governor Ronald Reagan had announced that he would be a candidate for the Republican nomination for president; as events would later demon-