Jimmy Carter photo

Interview with Eleanor Clift of "Newsweek"

July 19, 1976

Q. How will your fall campaign compare with your campaign during the primaries?

Governor Carter. The careful planning, the broad scope of my effort, the complete commitment of myself and my family and supporters will be the same. It will be an all-out, very aggressive campaign. The major difference will be the harmonizing of our effort with that of other candidates who run as Democratic nominees for U.S. Senate, governor, Congress and lesser offices. I think that this will permit us to mutually strengthen one another, to acquaint the American people much more clearly with the principles of our party as expressed in a very good platform.

Q. Will it be more substantive? Less handshaking and more major speechmaking?

Governor Carter. I've made a major speech about once every 2 or 3 weeks on domestic or foreign policy, and I would guess that it would be still about one major speech of a different and comprehensive nature every 2 weeks. I would like to retain, as much as possible, the personal interrelationship with voters. It becomes more difficult with the larger and larger press and security entourage, but I would like to maintain that as much as I can. The explanation of specific platform commitments will be made jointly by me, by the Vice Presidential nominee, and by the major spokesmen in the party, so I think the cumulative effect of a presentation of the same themes will be much more effective.

Q. So you would expect your Vice Presidential nominee to be talking about reorganization, and welfare reform, and tax reform as much as you do?

Governor Carter. Yes; I think so. As the major spokesman, I will probably deal with the controversial issues between our party and the Republicans, obviously, but I'll divide the responsibilities with the Vice Presidential nominee so we can provide the American people with a much more all encompassing explanation of what our administration will do.

Q. What do you see as the major issues? The ones you articulated in the primaries?

Governor Carter. I think there'll be a shift toward foreign policy. There'll be a shift toward the failures of the present administration. There will be a shift toward White House-Congress cooperation and the prospects of that cooperation if the Democrats are in the White House.

Q. Where will you campaign?

Governor Carter. I would be foolish to promise to go into every state. I would never do that. But I don't intend to yield any states. Either I, the members of my family, or the Vice President and his family, will cover every geographical region of the nation and I'll be moving very rapidly and constantly from one part of the country to another ... I think the strategy for specific state time allotments could not be fully decided until after the Republicans identify their candidate. But I would have an excellent chance to win Michigan against Ford or California against Reagan.

Q. Will your campaign vary depending on whether Ford or Reagan is nominated?

Governor Carter. Slightly. We'll leave a minimal amount of flexibility in my time allotments among states, as we did in the primaries. Our original strategy was fairly well carried out in spite of changing circumstances and changing opponents in the latter stages of the primary campaigns. There will be some flexibility that will be built in for the general election and that flexibility would be to accommodate the identity of the Republican nominee.

Q. But you won't name the individual states?

Governor Carter. No; I think that would be inappropriate. It's obvious that the very large states—New York and California, Michigan, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania—would be important and hard fought no matter who the Republicans would have as their leader ... Whether we spent more time in Texas or more time in Michigan or whether we spent more time in New York or more time in California might be determined by the identity of the nominee of the Republicans.

Q. Do you have special plans for your two weakest areas, the East and West coasts?

Governor Carter. Well, I can't say what specific things because the platform planks, the thrust of our issue presentation, would be fairly uniform throughout the country. I think the emphasis would be derived from the amount of time that I spend, or the Vice Presidential nominee spends, and the placement of advertising media—but not thematic emphasis.

Q; Would Reagan or Ford be easier for you to beat?

Governor Carter. I think it's really a tossup, and I don't have any preference. I can see differences. Ford would have all the advantages of the incumbency. He would be much more able, I think, to unify the party behind his campaign. Reagan is an accomplished actor, he's superbly used to television. His support is much more fervent, and he's from outside of Washington.

Q. You used to say that you thought Reagan would be easier to defeat than Ford because he is divisive candidate. Do you still think that?

Governor Carter. I can't say that any more. Obviously Reagan's strength in the political process as contrasted with Ford's has been greater than I had thought, as proven by the Republican race itself.

Q. Will you be traveling immediately after the convention?

Governor Carter. Very little. I've had several heads of state who want to meet with me following the convention. I'll be meeting with task groups to assess how we can best complete my promises and how we can best incorporate the staff of the Members of Congress with my own staff members and volunteers, to put together comprehensive proposals of tax reform and welfare reform and 15 or 20 other major issues. And we'll also be dividing up the responsibilities between my own campaign and that of the Vice President. In fact, that will probably commence before the Vice Presidential nominee leaves New York.

Q. Your aides say that you are already preparing a legislative program.

Governor Carter. Yes; if I am elected, we'll be ready with a complete post-election transitional plan. I would want to move aggressively and rapidly to correct some of the nation's problems, to restore the elements of leadership, to coordinate the functions of the different branches of government and be ready to be a good President. One very good benefit that accrues from that is that I'll be able to assess the relative qualities of people who helped me during the planning period, so that when I am elected, I will know which persons to ask to help me as President in major Cabinet posts and in hundreds and hundreds of lesser posts which I'll be called upon to fill.

Q. Can you say who in Congress is helping you with the program?

Governor Carter. Well, not yet, that will come a little later. I don't want to put them in an embarrassing position. But we've started identifying with the help of the congressional leaders the particular Members of Congress— the House and Senate—who are knowledgeable about energy, agriculture, health, education, welfare, taxation, and so forth, and have contacted or begun to contact those congressional members to ask them to let their staffs work with us, so that we can have as much benefit from their experience in the legislative field as possible.

Q. Are you worried that the convention may be boring?

Governor Carter. If I had my choice between having a boring convention because the contest for the nomination is over, or having an exciting convention because I still had a major political battle, I would choose the boring convention. I think it's going to be a good convention. I hope that the people of the country are in a sober enough mood, and an inquisitive enough mood so they'll be interested in the platform commitments, the analysis of the Democratic Party principles, the presentation to the public of other leaders in the party who'll be joining me in the next administration—if we are successful. It'll be a good convention.

Q. Many Presidents have talked about making the Vice Presidency meaningful. What makes you think you can bring it off?

Governor Carter. In the first place, I don't believe that I would ever feel threatened by the stature or the competence or intelligence or fame of a Vice President. I think the Presidency itself is such a powerful office that there is no reason to feel threatened. Second, in the complexities of a modem technological world with the changes coming so rapidly, a President needs more and more to have someone with official status on whom he can rely for ceremonial functions, for dealing with the Congress, for the carrying out of major campaign commitments, for dealing with international matters. And because of the time that's been allotted to me, when I make a choice, I will have chosen the person I think is best qualified and most compatible with me—and this would help to insure his use in the future. And the last thing is that I have promised the prospective nominees that they would play a major role, and I would not break my promise to them or to the people.

Jimmy Carter, Interview with Eleanor Clift of "Newsweek" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347623