The night the election maps turned Reagan blue

Robert Morrison Senior Fellow, Family Research Council
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It was thirty years ago today, November 4th. I was about to ring the doorbell to our home, but my wife opened the door first. She greeted me with this stunning news: “You’re too late. The election is over.”

I reeled. It was only 5:30 p.m. I was getting home from work early, planning to join a houseful of our Navy friends for an Election Eve party.

We had been told to expect a long, long night. It was a three-way contest between President Jimmy Carter, Gov. Ronald Reagan and Congressman John Anderson. The liberal talking heads on TV (and in 1980, all the TV pundits were liberals) had alerted us to the distinct possibility that the election was so close it could be thrown into the House of Representatives. The Democratic majority there would assure Jimmy Carter’s re-election. Well, the wish was father to the thought.

My wife saw the color drain from my face. She gently pulled me in to the warm and bright family room where she was serving chili and cornbread to our guests. “President Carter has just conceded.” Still stunned, I asked: conceded to whom?

“To Reagan, of course. Reagan has won in a landslide.” My non-political wife was breaking news to me that simply did not compute. I was the political junkie in the family.

I was the one who majored in this stuff in college. It simply couldn’t be possible that Reagan could win the election so early.

We were then living in Washington State. The polls wouldn’t close there for another two and-a-half-hours. It was crazy to think that Jimmy Carter would concede the election this early. There were still thousands of candidates running for Congress, for state and local offices. There were still millions of votes to be cast.

But soon the reality dawned on me. My wife sat me down in front of the TV. Our Navy friends — most of them Reagan rooters, but a few Carter and Anderson people — laughed at my disorientation.

There, on television, I saw the CBS News election map. In those days, the Republicans were blue and the Democrats were red. I don’t remember what color they had assigned to John Anderson. As it worked out over the course of the evening, it wouldn’t matter. John Anderson’s petulant Independent candidacy would yield zero electoral votes, so the networks never had to worry.

As New England and New York reported their returns, Reagan swept everything in the Northeast except Rhode Island — everything. When the Northeast went BLUE, CBS’s Dan Rather went GREEN.

We had expected Reagan to do well, very well, in the South and the Mountain states. We had good hopes for California. But we weren’t sure how he’d fare in the Midwest and other battleground states.

We needn’t have worried. Although it showed up in no public polls, the candidates’ private polls detected the surge toward the sunny Californian over the weekend before Election Day.

Fifty-two American hostages were spending their 365th day in captivity in Iran. Election Day fell one year to the day after they had been seized. Jimmy Carter had been completely unsuccessful in his feeble attempts to gain their release.

The economy was a wreck. Jimmy had beaten up the hapless Jerry Ford with the Misery Index that Carter’s campaign team invented. Ford in ’76 had a Misery Index of 16. Now, Jimmy’s in ’80 was over 20.

President Carter claimed to be the only one who could deal with the Soviet Union. Really? Is that why the Soviets invaded Afghanistan on your watch? Is that why you feared to submit the SALT II Treaty that you signed with them to a Senate controlled by your own party?

All of this makes it amazing to think that Carter even dared to submit himself to the judgment of the voters. How did the man get any votes in 1980?

But what Rush calls the “drive-by media” daily echoed the liberal line against Ronald Reagan. He was too old. Too reckless. Too racist. This last bit was especially galling since Reagan had never said or done a racist thing in his life.

All of this occurred thirty years ago today. What a blessing it was to live through those exciting times. What a miracle we survived them.

Now, here’s a suggestion for Fox News: How about giving us our BLUE back? Blue is a soothing, reassuring color. Red is the color of the left, of socialism. Somewhere along the line in the last thirty years, our colors got switched. When Reagan ran, the network election maps were all the color of California swimming pools: REAGAN BLUE.

Robert Morrison is senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council.