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This Day in History: Reagan Off to Slow Start; Neither Candidate Exciting Voters

This Day in History: Reagan Off to Slow Start; Neither Candidate Exciting Voters

Though there are obvious differences, there are some clear similarities in the Reagan vs. Carter race of 1980 and the Romney vs. Obama race of today–principally, that Reagan was slow to build a lead over Carter, and that the public showed little interest in either major candidate until very late in the race. Here are some of the headlines from September 8-9, 1980:

“Campaign Kickoff; Has Reagan Dropped the Ball?” – U.S. News and World Report, 9/9/1980

In what shapes up as a tight contest for the White House, even associates of Ronald Reagan conceded that the Republican nominee got off to a sputtering start in his attempt to replace President Jimmy Carter.

The problem: Reagan had no sooner begun a crucial speaking tour than he got bogged down in semantic tangles by advocating ”official” ties with Taiwan, defending the Vietnam War as a ”noble cause” and voicing doubts about the theory of evolution.

Carter maneuvered to keep Reagan on the defensive while using the White House as a backdrop for events ranging from unveiling of his 30-billion-dollar tax-cut and economic-stimulus program to a meeting with an African leader designed in part to win support among black Americans…

Despite all of Reagan’s early struggles, Republican strategists saw a quick route to recovery. Their solution: Keep Reagan pounding away at Carter’s economic record.

To that end, Reagan’s immediate response to the new Carter economic plan was to characterize it as ”cut from the same cloth as the earlier proposals . . . people out of work, people out of money, people out of hope.”…

“Carter, Reagan Even In Latest Time Poll” – Time, 9/8/1980

President Carter and his Republican challenger, Ronald Reagan, ran even in Time magazine’s latest poll of voter preference, the magazine says.

Carter and Reagan both attracted 39 percent of those surveyed, Time said Sunday. The poll’s sampling error was plus or minus 3 to 4.5 percent, a spokesman said…

Time’s news release did not list results of the magazine’s previous surveys of voter preference, but it reported there were “areas of serious slippage for Reagan in important areas” and noted voter support for all the candidates was “shaky.”

Time said 55 percent of the voters surveyed “say they are not ‘personally interested or excited about’ any of the candidates…

Reagan’s rating on abilities regarded as important by voters has declined, the magazine said. In its last survey in May, 49 percent of those sampled agreed that “Reagan was a leader ‘you can trust’ while 42 percent believed that now…

“Reagan, Carter — it hasn’t jelled for either of them yet” – Christian Science Monitor, 9/9/1980

On both US coasts, the 1980 presidential race apparently has bogged down in soft support for both Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter…

“They’re both incredibly soft,” says Democratic pollster Peter Hart of the two major candidates’ current levels of support, with more than 50 days left in the campaign.

Relatively, Carter appears in the better position. “They’re starting out even this week in the national polls,” says pollster I.A. Lewis, “and that’s bad for Reagan. Any consolidation, any return of the natives in coming weeks, has to favor the Democrats. There are just more of them.”

The most recent polls — a national Yankelovich, Skelly, and White survey for Time magazine, a New York Times poll of New York State, and the Gallup and Roper surveys — show a uniform pulling even in the race. “Even is way behind for Reagan,” Mr. Lewis says.

Meanwhile, this week the Reagan campaign continues pressing for ethnic, Catholic, Democratic, and working-class votes in the Nothern industrial belt from Pennsylvania to Illinois, with no plan to shore up its weakening Western base until possibly late September…


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