In 1976, Gerald Ford faced a serious challenge for the Republican nomination from Ronald Reagan, the conservative former governor of California. Although Ford was named the presidential candidate at the convention, the platform that he ran on reflected the views of Reagan and the right wing of the Republican Party — an increase in military spending, opposition to détente, a balanced budget, and school prayer. To ensure conservative support, Senator Robert Dole of Kansas was chosen as the vice-presidential candidate. The unlikely Democratic nominee was Jimmy Carter, who had served one term as governor of Georgia. He struck a responsive chord among the voters with his honesty, easy-going style, and the fact that he was a Washington outsider. To balance the Democratic ticket, Carter chose Senator Walter Mondale of Minnesota — a man with strong liberal credentials and experience in Congress — as his running mate.
The election did not generate a great deal of public interest. In fact, voter turnout was the lowest in almost 30 years. Carter was able to rebuild the New Deal coalition of labor, minorities, the South, and urban voters with an important twist. His success in the South, where he won every state except Virginia, had less to do with his own background than the overwhelming support he received from African-Americans. Ford, on the other hand, was strong among whites, consistently so across the Midwest and West. Although by the end of the campaign he was able to close the large lead that Carter had in the polls, it was not enough. Carter won by nearly 1.7 million popular votes, and a comfortable margin in the electoral college, with 297 votes to Ford's 241.