Grand Rapids’ favorite son and the last contested convention

A file image of President Gerald R. Ford.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As more states continue to vote in the presidential primary, it’s becoming ever more likely there will be a contested convention in the Republican race.

The last time there was a contested Republican convention was in 1976. That was when President Gerald Ford was running for the nomination after taking over the presidency when Richard Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal.

“Going into the convention, Ford had the majority of the delegates but he didn’t have enough to win the nomination outright,” said Jim Kratsas, deputy director of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.

The other candidate Ford was going up against was Ronald Reagan.

“When the balloting took place where they call out the states, Reagan had won Alabama, Ford had won Alaska then Reagan won Arizona, and then the big one he won 167 delegates was California, so things looked really grim for Ford,” Kratsas said.

But as things progressed, Ford kept picking up more and more delegates until West Virginia voted, putting him over the top on the first round of votes.

“‘76 was contentious. Any time you’re not sure the outcome, it’s going to be contention. I wouldn’t say it was any more or less contention than today’s convention or what’s going on right now — I think it’s pretty similar,” Kratsas said.

One thing that helped put Ford over the edge was that Reagan said he was going to select Sen. Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania as his vice president running mate.

The problem with that was Schweiker was viewed by many in the Republican Party as a liberal that didn’t play well with the conservatives who were backing Reagan. Mississippi switched its delegates and they went to Ford, according to Kratsas.

As for what Ford might make of this year’s Republican party, Kratsas said in his later years, President Ford was a bit dismayed by the divineness between politics — even by the parities.

“Ford had many advisories, as people use to say, but he had no enamies,” Kratsas said. “He might disagree with a Democrat on the House floor or while he was president, however, [the] next day, the two would be joking at a dinner or something of that nature. It wasn’t as personal; it was business it was politics.”

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