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Former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter jumped into the frontrunner's position among Democratic presidential candidates yesterday by winning the Florida primary over Alabama Gov. George Wallace. In the Republican primary, President Ford toppled former California Gov. Ronald Reagan decisively.
With 92 per cent of Florida's precincts reporting, Carter had 35 per cent of the Democratic vote to Wallace's 32 per cent and Sen. Henry Jackson (D-Wash.) trailed with 22 per cent. For the Republicans, Ford was leading Reagan 53 to 47 per cent.
Ford's triumph culminates a monthlong downhill slide in Reagan's ratings among Florida Republicans. A month ago, Reagan's campaign manager in Florida, L.E. Thomas, predicted that the former California governor would sweep the state with over two thirds of the vote. Two weeks ago, Thomas revised that estimate to a 55-per-cent victory; and yesterday, Ford's campaign managers forecasted a "more than 55-per-cent majority" for Ford.
Reagan's long-time abeyance from attacking Ford's policies went by the boards this past week as Reagan's strategists saw their candidate's early lead slipping. The Reagan campaign strategy of coasting on momentum gained in the early primaries has proved to be an utter failure, with Ford's narrow victory in New Hampshire and solid win in Florida. The future of Ronald Reagan looks dim.
There were only bright lights last night for Carter, who beat Wallace in a state where the Alabama governor had pulled 42 per cent of the Democratic vote in the 1972 primary. Carter has always maintained that Florida would be the test of whether he could beat Wallace in the South. Carter set up his Florida organization over a year ago and since then has made more than 30 campaign visits to the Sunshine State.
The Florida results are a severe blow to Wallace's hopes of going to the Democratic convention with the largest bloc of delegates. Wallace matched his 1972 margins only in the rural, sparsely populated Florida panhandle, close to the Alabama and Georgia piney woods. Carter won his largest margins, as did Ford on the Republican side, in the populous midsection of Florida, including St. Petersburg, Tampa, and Daytona Beach.
Jackson appealed primarily to the heavily populated Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area, where there is a large Jewish community, and led both Carter and Wallace in that area. Jackson's 22 per cent showing was about what his organizers had expected.
sylvania Gov. Milton Shapp failed to beat "No Preference" in Florida, drawing only two per cent of the Democratic vote after campaigning actively. Three per cent of the Democrats pulled the "No Preference" levers, while Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.) received two per cent without even campaigning.
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