Historic Whispers: Ronald Reagan Had Little Chance of Winning the Primary

White House strategists thought Reagan wouldn't be the one to challenge Carter in 1980.

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Thirty years ago in April, Jimmy Carter was famously "attacked" by a swamp rabbit while fishing in Georgia. Although the bizarre incident created a huge media stir, when we looked back, we didn't find any Whispers coverage of the rabbit incident. What we did find was a lot of other things Carter had to worry about. At that point, we were already reporting on a potential primary challenger, Ted Kennedy, and a general election challenger, Ronald Reagan, both determined to make Carter a one-term president.

  • White House political strategists have concluded—regretfully—that Ronald Reagan is fading and will have little chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination in 1980. Why the regrets? Because Carter's aides are convinced that the conservative, 68-year-old former California governor is an easy target. (April 2, 1979)
    • Music hath charms: The President listens to music—while working or relaxing—10 hours a day. Favorites: guitarist Chet Atkins, opera singer Beverly Sills. (April 2, 1979)
      • The latest size-up of the Republican presidential race by political analysts: A "semifinal" round in next year's primaries will pit Ronald Reagan against John Connally for the conservative vote and Howard Baker vs. George Bush for support of moderates. The two survivors will fight it out at the GOP national convention. (April 9, 1979)
        • Senator Gerald Ford? Top Republicans in Colorado are trying to convince the former President, who has a vacation home in Vail, to run against Democratic Senator Gary Hart next year. Two past Presidents—John Quincy Adams and Andrew Johnson—later returned to Congress. (April 16, 1979)
          • It is Jimmy Carter, not Rosalynn, who usually decides the First Family's vacations. The President pushes for rustic settings—spending a week on a wilderness island this spring—while Rosalynn is said to favor somewhat more-civilized surroundings. (April 16, 1979)
            • After all the fuss and furor over the nuclear accident in Pennsylvania die down, White House insiders predict, the nation not only will continue operating atomic power plants but will rely on them to an even greater extent for generating electricity—with tighter safeguards. (April 23, 1979)
              • Carter aides are privately supporting moves to advance 1980 primary election dates in Southern states, where the President is expected to do best, and push back others. One part of the maneuvering: The White House is seeking a delay in the March 4 vote in Massachusetts, home of potential rival Ted Kennedy and site of Carter's worst primary showing in 1976. (April 23, 1979)
                • California Governor Jerry Brown's safari to Africa with singer Linda Ronstadt has befuddled political analysts. They can't decide whether it helps or hurts Brown's chances of winning the Democratic presidential nomination in 1980. (April 23, 1979)
                  • The President apparently wants more solitude on the job. During his Easter vacation, workmen swarmed over the Oval Office insulating doors to help keep noise from seeping in. (April 30, 1979)
                    • Carter, his aides insist, has no plans to emulate the late Lyndon Johnson in setting an example of energy conservation. Says one associate: "It would be silly for the President to be running around the White House turning off the lights"—precisely what LBJ was famed for doing. (April 30, 1979)
                      • Although officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration publicly scoff at talk of danger when the 84-ton Skylab space station drops out of its orbit sometime in mid-June, insiders report that NASA is quietly readying plans—including rescue teams—just in case the largest man-made object in space crashes into a populated area. (May 7, 1979)
                        • Why Carter's staff finds it impossible to stop worrying about Ted Kennedy: The demand for "Kennedy for President" buttons was so great by a group of Midwestern United Auto Workers members visiting Washington in late April that the supply was quickly exhausted. (May 7, 1979)
                          • Capitol Hill insiders say Majority Leader Robert Byrd's complaint that Carter is interrupting Senate business too often by calling members to the White House for meetings masks his real objective: Byrd's fear that Carter is undermining his authority. (May 7, 1979)
                            • Carter surprised his own aides as much as anyone when he showed up after his Easter vacation with a new-style haircut. The President's dead-pan explanation to his staff: "I wanted to travel incognito." (May 7, 1979)
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