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Forty five years ago, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford came to a final showdown at the Republican National Convention in Kansas City, Mo.

It was the first time since 1948 that no one knew heading into the convention who the nominee would be.

Ford had been elected only by the citizens of Michigan, who had sent him to Congress; he was elevated to the presidency by the resignations of Vice President Spiro Agnew and later President Richard Nixon.

Now he’d need to win a presidential nomination, and after 30 primaries and 11 caucuses, he was narrowly ahead but just short of the 1,130 delegates he needed.

When the convention began, Ford had 1,106 delegates to Reagan’s 1,034; 119 were uncommitted.

In one of the convention’s boldest strokes, Reagan startled the party by announcing in advance that his running mate would be Sen. Richard Schweiker, a liberal Republican from Pennsylvania. (The state had more than 100 delegates, and almost all were uncommitted.)

The move dismayed conservatives — but it showed Reagan’s willingness to do what he needed to do to win.

It wasn’t enough.

On the first ballot on Wednesday, Aug. 18, the penultimate day of the convention, Ford got 1,187 votes to Reagan’s 1,070.

The incumbent president won just 57 votes more than he needed.

Following Ford’s speech, in a bit of spontaneous genius, the president coaxed the Reagan’s down to the podium.

Reagan was aware there was no way not to go and look like a sore loser.

The losing candidate had no remarks prepared, went totally off the cuff, and it was the defining moment of the convention.

Reagan defined how to lose to with dignity, with an eye already on the next race.


WATCH: Jim on History, Reagan Turns Defeat Into Victory


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