The passing of our 38th President Gerald Ford prompted Smart Politics to take a look at his 1976 presidential campaign in the Upper Midwest—and the close races he faced with Jimmy Carter that year.

Richard Nixon—who had nearly swept the nation’s electoral votes in 1972—made a clean sweep of the Upper Midwest in that re-election bid. Nixon improved 5 percentage points on his 1968 performance in Iowa, 18 points in Minnesota, and 6 points in Wisconsin (Nixon lost a bit of ground in South Dakota—3 points—facing a candidate, George McGovern, who hailed from that state).

The Watergate scandal—which came to a head with Nixon’s resignation just before the 1974 Election—lead the Democrats to increase their majority status in the US House with a large 49-seat net gain (by comparison, the Democrats netted only 30 seats in 2006). However, the scandal did not seem to have legs beyond that election year, with Democrats gaining only one net seat in 1976 House races.

As such, despite his pardoning of Nixon for the Watergate affair, Ford was able to run a fairly competitive campaign in 1976—winning 240 electoral votes across the country, most coming in the West, Northeast, plus two states in the Upper Midwest (Iowa and South Dakota). Both of these races were nail-biters, with Ford nipping Carter by 1 percentage point in each state. Carter meanwhile was able to capture Wisconsin by just 2 points. The only uncompetitive race was in Minnesota, where Ford lost by 13 points.


  1. Tina Nixon Hawkins on January 4, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    Gotta love this post. I’m getting my buddy the Nixon 51-30! I hope he enjoys it.

  2. Nikoli Orr on May 8, 2020 at 10:03 pm

    Had IA used “ranked choice” voting then – as ME presumably will for all of the 2020 federal elections – the state nearly certainly would have gone for the D ticket (ditto for OK, OR, and ME). But then again, WI, with rogue ex-DEM Senator “Clean Gene” McCarthy on the ballot there, was widely expected to be won by its MI neighbour Ford.

    The Peace Garden State, which was deemed not part of the “upper midwest” for this article, was carried by Ford as well, though had he selected Senator Baker of TN as he veep candidate, he might have lost it by a modest margin, rather than winning it by a competitive though not “nail-biting” 52%-46%.

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