Many of this week’s reviews of Ronald Reagan’s life mention his start as a sportscaster at two Iowa radio stations, but fail to mention the rocky start Iowans dealt Reagan’s 1980 campaign for the White House. George Herbert Walker Bush, the father of the current President, won the 1980 Caucuses with over 31-percent of the vote. Reagan came in second with 29-and-a-half percent; Howard Baker was third with just over 15 percent. Don Racheter, a Central College political science professor who’s active in republican party politics, remembers that Caucus Night well.Racheter says there was a lot of excitement among “grassroots” republicans from the seven candidates in the race, and Bush and Baker ended up being better organized than Reagan was. Racheter says Reagan came in a close second to Gerald Ford in the 1976 Caucuses, too.Racheter says Reagan was very popular in Iowa because he’d worked at WHO radio and because Reagan was seen as the more conservative of the two major candidates. Racheter says Reagan’s narrow losses in Iowa in 1976 and ’80 motivated his backers to work even harder to ensure Reagan was elected in 1980’s General Election. In the 1984 campaign, Iowa was considered a republican state and Reagan spent little time campaigning here. While Reagan won Iowa in the general election, his margin of victory over Walter Mondale was narrow.Racheter says that’s a lesson all candidates need to take to heart — don’t take folks for granted or they’ll sit on their hands and won’t be energized. Racheter says Reagan, however, was able to garner support from voters other conservative candidates haven’t been able to win over.Racheter says Reagan was “such a pleasant person, such a happy, optimistic person” that voters who didn’t share his ideology were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and trust him to represent them.
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