President Carter was challenged for the Democratic nomination by Sen. Ted Kennedy. The farther left, liberal voters tended to favor Kennedy and his access to financial support and family prestige only boosted his advantage. However, after the seizure of American hostages in Iran, the nation was rallied around the president, turning the public eye away from Kennedy. Additionally, voters became uneasy with the Massachusetts senator when the Chappaquiddick incident of 1969 resurfaced and his personal character came into question. With failing to develop a strong campaign theme, Sen. Kennedy lost the Democratic nomination to President Carter.
California Governor Ronald Reagan proved to be the strongest Republican candidate in the primary elections of 1980. George Bush proved to be a worthy threat by winning the Iowa caucus, however Reagan remained in the lead for the delegate count. By April, all the only contestants for the Republican nomination that remained were George Bush and Ronald Reagan. Reagan proposed bold measures including sizably increasing military outlays and a 30 percent reduction in income tax rates based on his heavily debated “supply-side economics,” or what George Bush liked to refer to as “voodoo economics.”
The main issues that divided the candidates were the Equal Rights Amendment (Carter supported, Reagan did not), national healthcare (Carter was for a national standardized program) and the clever term developed by Republicans, the “misery index” (inflation plus unemployment). Inflation and unemployment were two large burdens to carry into the election of 1980, and President Carter had his arms full. Also noteworthy, John Anderson entered the race as an Independent, the first serious third party candidate since George Wallace in 1968. A Representative from Illinois, he managed to take away 6.6 percent of the vote, possibly dampening the Carter electorate. The polls going into the election predicted a close race; however, Reagan won all but six states, even Carter’s home state, Georgia. With 51 percent of the vote to Carter’s 41 percent, the landslide was more evident in the electoral college with Reagan winning 489 votes to Carter’s 49.