Some things never change. Ohio’s position as a “swing state” and a must win for every presidential candidate brings a near continuous string of campaign visits by candidates from all parties. Gather ’round and I’ll tell you about the time I went to an Ohio presidential rally.
In 1976 President Gerald Ford, Republican, was running for re-election against Jimmy Carter, the Democratic nominee. At that time I lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, near the University of Cincinnati. I learned that President Ford would be speaking at a rally on Fountain Square on October 28, on a last minute campaign swing through Ohio. I was free that day and decided not to miss a chance to see the sitting President of the United States up close. President Ford had served a unique and controversial term. Here’s your quicky history review.
- He was the first person appointed to the Vice Presidency under the terms of the 25th Amendment after Spiro Agnew resigned
- He became President upon Richard Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974, so he became the first and to date only person to have served as both President and Vice President of the United States without being elected by the Electoral College
- He pardoned Richard Nixon after Watergate.
I caught the bus in front of my apartment and headed downtown.
It was a different time then, before 9-11. There was security but no tickets were required, there was no gauntlet of metal detectors, no bag searches. I went downtown a few hours early and was pleased to be right at the front of the crowd near the stage. As time passed, Fountain Square filled up, the crowd spilling over into the closed streets around the Square. Just before President Ford arrived, myself and those around me were dismayed when a group of school children were ushered to the front, moving us back from our prime viewing spots. A better photo-op for President Ford I guess.
From my position in the center of the crowd I could see many Secret Service agents and uniformed police on the Square and surrounding the stage. About 15 minutes before President Ford took the stage, two plain clothes agents appeared out of nowhere, snaked through the crowd and hustled a man off the Square and into a waiting car. There was no reason that I could see, he appeared to be patiently waiting like the rest of us. I have always wondered why he was removed from the crowd that day and what disaster may have been averted. It could be that he was just a serial heckler, bad for PR.
The stage was filled with Ohio’s Republican Party dignitaries, Governor Jim Rhodes and Senator Bob Taft among others. When the President took the stage the crowd erupted with cheers. Applause and more cheers followed every rally point. Cincinnati was a Republican stronghold and the crowd that day was composed mostly of his supporters. I don’t remember seeing any protesters or hearing any boos or hisses. Detractors were probably herded well to the back of the crowd.
You can read the text of President Ford’s speech at The American Presidency Project, Gerald Ford: Remarks at a Rally in Cincinnati, Ohio if you wish. It’s interesting to note that President Ford’s speech addressed the same issues as today: jobs and and the economy. President Ford’s style was forceful and his message urgent. I won’t go into all the politics of the ’76 election but it was a close race and he needed every vote.
The Big Red Machine, the Cincinnati Reds, had won the 1976 World Series. Pete Rose and Ken Griffey were on the stage that day, too. It was as big a thrill to see them as it was the President. Unfortunately for Gerald Ford, even the Big Red Machine could not help him win the election that was held just a few days later. The Presidency went to Jimmy Carter.
Please note: This post is not intended to endorse any candidate or political position. Except this one – put Pete Rose in the Baseball Hall of Fame!