George H.W. Bush Announces his Candidacy for President of the United States
Bush had decided in the late 1970s that he was going to run for president in 1980; in 1979, he attended 850 political events and traveled more than 250,000 miles (400,000 km) to campaign for the nation's highest office.
In the contest for the Republican Party nomination, Bush stressed his wide range of government experience, while competing against rivals Howard Baker, Bob Dole, John Anderson (who would later run as an independent), Phil Crane, John Connally, and the front-runner Ronald Reagan, former actor and Governor of California.
In the primary election, Bush focused almost entirely on the Iowa caucuses, while Reagan ran a more traditional campaign. Bush represented the centrist wing in the GOP, whereas Reagan represented conservatives. Bush famously labeled Reagan's supply side-influenced plans for massive tax cuts "voodoo economics". His strategy proved useful, to some degree, as he won in Iowa with 31.5 percent to Reagan's 29.4 percent. After the win, Bush stated that his campaign was full of momentum, or "Big Mo". As a result of the loss, Reagan replaced his campaign manager, reorganized his staff, and concentrated on the New Hampshire primary. The two men agreed to a debate in the state, organized by the Nashua Telegraph, but paid for by the Reagan campaign. Reagan invited the other four candidates as well, but Bush refused to debate them, and eventually they left. The debate proved to be a pivotal moment in the campaign; when the moderator, John Breene, ordered Reagan's microphone turned off, his angry response, "I am paying for this microphone Mr. Greene", [sic] struck a chord with the public.
Bush rejoined the corporate world back in Houston and started planning for the 1980 presidential campaign soon after he returned. He began with reestablishing his Texas contacts and fundraising. On May 1, 1979, Bush announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for President.
During the Republican primaries in the 1980 campaign, the conservative wing of the party was drawn to Ronald Reagan, the former actor and governor of California. Bush was considered more moderate and less dogmatic than Reagan, who was anointed as the frontrunner early on. The other Republican candidates included Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, Representative John Anderson of Illinois, Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee, Representative Philip Crane of Illinois, and John Connally, former governor of Texas.
Bush surprised most observers when he won the Iowa caucus. He campaigned throughout the state with great determination and energy, and raised concerns about Reagan's economic plan to lower taxes and increase military spending while balancing the federal budget. Bush derisively labeled Reagan's plan "voodoo economics".
Once the campaign turned to New Hampshire, Bush became embroiled in an incident that has become part of the lore of American political history. The Telegraph newspaper in Nashua proposed a debate between just Reagan and Bush. When Senator Dole complained about his exclusion, Reagan's campaign agreed to fund the debate and invited the other candidates, unbeknownst to Bush. Bush was caught by surprise when he arrived at the debate and saw the other candidates on the stage with Reagan. As the candidates argued about the debate's format, the moderator of the debate ordered Reagan's microphone turned off, and Reagan responded, "I paid for this microphone!" The incident seemed to highlight Reagan's strength and stature and reflected badly on Bush, who seemed bewildered.
After Bush lost to Reagan in New Hampshire, he was no match for the Reagan juggernaut. Reagan clinched the nomination and moved to consolidate the Republican Party behind a popular ticket., Reagan initially considered selecting former President Gerald Ford as his running mate in a "co-presidency" arrangement, but that unusual proposal went nowhere. Ultimately, Bush emerged as the consensus choice for the second spot, in part due to his appeal to the more moderate wing of the party. After accepting Reagan's offer, Bush was criticized by some for changing his previous positions on issues such as abortion and the economy to become more consistent with Reagan's conservative views.
May 1: Bush announces his candidacy for president at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
January 21: Bush wins a surprise victory over Republican front-runner California governor Ronald Reagan in the Iowa caucus. In his victory speech, Bush declares that he has "Big Mo" (momentum) on his side. "Big Mo" is seen as preppy and childish and is the type of phrase that will contribute to his image problem in both the 1980 and later campaigns.