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Ford gets nod as GOP standard-bearer

By Steve Gerstel
Ford gets nod as GOP standard-bearer
Surrounded by flags, President Gerald Ford and first lady Betty Ford wave as they arrive at Fort McHenry for a naturalization ceremony and Fourth of July celebration in 1975 in Baltimore, Md. On August 18, 1976, the Republican Party nominated Ford as its candidate for president. UPI File Photo | License Photo

KANSAS CITY, Mo., -- Gerald Ford won the Republican presidential nomination early Thursday morning at a convention reduced to bedlam at times by the demonstrations of Ronald Reagan's defeated forces.

The West Virginia delegation put Ford past the magi 1,130 vote mark needed to nominate -- launching him on his own run for the White House against Jimmy Carter and ending Reagan's presidential dreams -- at 1:29 a.m. EDT.

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The final unofficial roll call was 1,187 for Ford and 1,070 for Reagan.

Indiana's delegation cast its 54 votes in the manner prescribed by state law with 45 votes going to Reagan and 9 votes to Ford.

Ford, still pondering his choice of a running mate, made party unity his first order of business by announcing he would go to Reagan for consultations before naming his selection at midday Thursday.

The president had the necessary votes for nomination locked up well in advance of the Wednesday night session. But the vigor and vehemence of the last hurrah staged on the convention floor by Reagan's supporters indicated Ford may have a major task healing the wounds of the bitter nomination campaign.

They dominated and interrupted the session almost from the start, blowing horns, kazoos, whistles and other noisemakers in defeating unison for long periods, all night long. The eerie beehive noise was swelled by the counter-demonstrations of Ford backers chanting, cheering and ringing cowbells.

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The extraordinary Reagan demonstration efforts started as a cheery, spirited affair, but they would not die out. The horn-blowers repeatedly brought the nominating process to a halt under the eerie keening sound of a million bumblebees and raised speculation whether this were a deliberate stalling tactic.

Putting the President's name in nomination far behind schedule, Michigan's Gov. William Milliken tried to soothe frayed convention tempers, saying: "If what we've seen here tonight is any indication of the spirit of the Republican party, we will do very well in November."

As for the presidential nomination itself, a jovial Ford threw aside all hedges Wednesday morning and told cheering campaign workers, "I am absolutely confident of a convention victory."

UPI's tally before the convention balloting gave Ford 1,182 votes -- or 52 more than needed to nominate -- while Reagan had 1,067 and 10 delegates still would not say how they were voting.

Gov. William Milliken of Michigan in his speech nominating Ford called the President the man who "already has re-established our leadership, revived our economy and restored our honor."

Despite the seemingly hopeless odds against them, Reagan's forces streamed into the convention hall ready for a noisy, exuberant battle through the call of the roll. They carted in stacks of Reagan fight signs, poster-sized Reagan photos and horns rigged to blow puffs of confetti.

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They blew horns solidly for 22 minutes, holding up the nominating speech and ignoring all attempts from the podium to stop them. Three times the convention band played "God Bless America" -- which has stopped previous demonstrations during the convention -- but the Reagan forces went on.

And they also went out with some bitter parting words.

"Are we really willing to give away the Panama Canal?" asked Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina in a speech prepared to second Reagan's nomination but used mostly to attack Ford's policies that the conservatives have opposed.

"Do Americans want a national defense system that falls short of being No. 1 in the world? Is America really willing to slam the door on freedom for the captive nations -- as was done in Helsinki?"

But Ford's majority of backers equipped with all of the paraphernalia and lung power for political convention whoopla too.

In the main, the atmosphere seemed more zany than bitter, as it was Tuesday night during the crucial convention rules fight in which Ford broke the back of the Reagan drive by soundly beating his major predomination challenge.

Posters, banners and crazy hats were everywhere. One woman plastered a blue and white "Ford" decal on her forehead. The Indiana delegation waved a plastic elephant with Reagan decal and a companion sight saying "Hoosier peanut eater" in reference to Jimmy Carter.

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Ford and Reagan, following tradition, stayed home on the biggest night of their political lives -- each watching the proceedings in their hotel suites.

But Ford knew he had to make a reconciliation gesture toward Reagan quickly to unite the Republicans for November, and aides announced he would visit Reagan as quickly as possible after the nomination to consult on running mate choices.

Sen. Paul Laxalt, R-Nev., placed Reagan's name in nomination. He declared Reagan is a top-notch administrator and said, "He took over the most complex set of problems that anybody could receive" as governor of California and "left his successor, Jerry Brown, a surplus of some $500 million."

He called Reagan the best bet against the Democrats this fall, saying, "I'll bet after one round of debating with Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter would go back to shucking peanuts, if that's what you do with peanuts."

As he spoke, Reagan and Sen. Richard Schweiker sat in Reagan's suite at the Alameda Plaza hotel and watched on television. They smiled and pointed at the set, obviously enjoying the demonstrations.

Reagan refused to concede defeat. He grimly kept his appointed rounds, moving from delegation to delegation as the clock ticked off the last hours of his remarkable campaign.

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