John Anderson, upon hearing of his death last year, many people had forgotten who John Anderson was, and what was significant about him. Anderson was running for President in 1980. As a Republican, he represented one of the last gasps of the Moderate/Liberal wing of the party. Which wasn’t always his case.
Anderson, who had been in Congress, representing Illinois’ 18th district from 1961-1981, entered Capitol Hill as an arch conservative, but his views began to soften by the mid-1960s. By the late 1960s he was vehemently opposed to the Vietnam War – and by the 1970s became a vocal critic of Nixon and Watergate.
So by 1980 he was viewed as a loose cannon by many in his party when he announced his decision to run for President. Faced with opposition from Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, John Connally and George H. W. Bush, he represented the liberal wing of the party and a gamble on whether or not he would succeed.
On January 5, 1980, in the Republican candidates’ debate in Des Moines, Iowa, unlike the other candidates, Anderson said lowering taxes, increasing defense spending, and balancing the budget were an impossible combination. In a stirring summation, Anderson invoked his father’s immigration to the United States and said that we would have to make sacrifices today for a better tomorrow. For the next week, Anderson’s name and face were all over the national news programs, in newspapers, and in national news magazines.
Anderson spent less than $2000 in Iowa, but he finished with 4.3% of the vote. The television networks were covering the event, portraying Anderson to a national audience as a man of character and principle. When the voters in New Hampshire went to the polls, Anderson again exceeded the expectations, finishing fourth with just under 10% of the vote.
Anderson was declared the winner in both Massachusetts and Vermont by the Associated Press, but the following morning ended up losing both primaries by a slim margin.In Massachusetts, he lost to George Bush by 0.3% and in Vermont he lost to Reagan by 690 votes.
Anderson arrived in Illinois following the New England primaries and had a lead in the state polls, but his Illinois campaign struggled despite endorsements from the state’s two largest newspapers.Reagan defeated him, 48% to 37%. Anderson carried Chicago and Rockford, the state’s two largest cities at the time, but he lost in the more conservative southern section of the state.
The next week, there was a primary in Connecticut, which (while Anderson was on the ballot) his team had chosen not to campaign actively in. He finished third in Connecticut with 22% of the vote, and it seemed to most like any other loss, whether Anderson said he was competing or not. Next was Wisconsin, and this was thought to be Anderson’s best chance for victory, but he again finished third, winning 27% of the vote.
This episode of CBS News Face The Nation, from February 3, 1980 puts Anderson gaining momentum in his campaign, still as a Republican. It wouldn’t be until Summer that Anderson would switch Party affiliations and run as an Independent.
For those of you who don’t remember, or forgot completely – here is a sample of Candidate John Anderson as he appeared on Face The Nation, from February, 1980.