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The nation elected Ronald Reagan its 40th president yesterday, casting an elected incumbent out of office for the first time since 1932 and propelling the conservative Republican to an overwhelming victory with support in every corner of the country.
President Carter carried only five states and the District of Columbia in yesterday's balloting, as American voters swung sharply to the right, handing Reagan 449 electoral votes in a landslide of unexpected proportions.
With 88 per cent of the vote tallied at 4 a.m., Reagan had 37,760,000 votes, or 51 per cent of the total, with Carter at 42 per cent and independent candidate Rep. John B. Anderson (R-I11.) at 6 per cent.
Union members, midwestern and Eastern voters, urban residents and even voters from Carter's own South switched in large numbers to the GOP challenger, making Carter the first Democratic incumbent to be defeated for reelection in more than 100 years.
Carter's failure to win the release of the American hostages in Iran, widespread concern over American military and economic policy, and Anderson's independent candidacy all hurt the president, election day surveys showed.
Reagan, who called his election "the most humbling moment in my life," told a Los Angeles crowd of cheering partisans that he was "determined to use this historic opportunity to change things."
"I don't believe the American people are frightened by what lies ahead," Reagan said, repeating his familiar campaign pledge to "put America back to work again."
Thanking his supporters for their efforts, Reagan said, "I will do my utmost to justify your faith."
Carter conceded the race at 9:51 p.m., telling a tearful crowd of Washington D.C. supporters, "When I was elected, I said I'd never lie to you. I can't stand here tonight and say it doesn't hurt."
Against the backdrop of the American flag, Carter said he accepted the decision of the nation's voters "though not with the same enthusiasm" that he accepted their verdict four years ago. He pledged to work closely with president-elect Reagan in hopes of the "best transition period in history."
"I didn't achieve all I set out to do, but we faced the tough issues," Carter, who won a narrow victory over incumbent Gerald Ford, told the crowd.
Anderson, who began the year as a Republican challenger to Reagan, dropped hints to another D.C. crowd that he might repeat his bid for the White House in four years.
His loss represented "a decision deferred," Anderson told the audience, which chanted "'84, '84, '84" and applauded the Illinois congressman, who finished with just enough votes to insure federal matching funds for his debt-ridden candidacy.
Anderson telephoned his congratulations to Reagan at 8:35 p.m. EST, 15 minutes before Carter sent a congratulatory telegram to the GOP nominee.
Carter's defeat was apparent even before the polls closed; presidential pollster Patrick Caddell told the incumbent yesterday morning that final surveys showed him trailing Reagan by seven to ten percentage points.
Surveys taken as voters left the polls yesterday showed that Carter had split the union vote with the Republican, a 17-per-cent drop in the incumbent's labor support since 1976, and that Reagan had beaten the President significantly among male voters.
White Protestants, southern whites and even Catholics--a traditionally Democratic bloc--backed Reagan's bid, with only Black and Hispanic voters continuing to back the president in numbers comparable to four years ago. Women voters backed the two candidates evenly.
The surveys showed that those who had made up their minds on the election during the last week split about evenly between Carter and Reagan. Those who focused on the issue of the American hostages in Iran tended to favor Carter, while Reagan picked up more support from those who thought the debate was more important.
Reagan fared well among those voters who said they favored a strong U.S. posture towards the Soviet Union and those who thought inflation was the most important domestic issues.
Reagan won in economically depressed areas in the nation's industrial heartland, taking Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania--states which were critical Carter's electoral strategy.
The once near-solid South cracked first for Carter as Reagan turned around the 1976 results in virtually every state.
Reagan ran strongly even in traditional Democratic strongholds like southern Florida and in areas the Republicans had captured in 1976--Virginia, for example--he improved on Ford's showing.
As returns from the midwest began to trickle in, the president's fate was sealed.
Indiana went overwhelmingly for Reagan, not switching any electoral votes from 1976 but pointing to the incumbent's weakness even in the urban areas of Gary and Indianapolis, localities the president carried four years ago.
Analysts said the early returns from Ohio, which Carter won in 1976, assured Reagan's victory.
All of the first twelve states to report returns gave Reagan the lead; by 7:30 Columbia Broadcasting Systems (CBS) reporter Dan Rather was saying Carter "must be hearing the whispers of the axe," and at 8:14 p.m. the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) declared Reagan the victor, more that seven hours before it announced its final projection in the 1976 race.
As the contest moved up the East Coast towards the major urban centers of the Northeast, Reagan's momentum held; except for a narrow Democratic victory in Massachusetts, the Republican captured most of the country's older industrial centers, including surprise wins in Connecticut and New York.
Though conventional wisdom has held that heavy turnouts in the Northeast helps Democratic candidates, yesterday's record attendance at the polls seemed to benefit the Republicans, who also picked up several unexpected Senate and House victories.
The network maps showed solid Reagan blue from the Mississippi River west, as the former California governor rolled up margins even larger than Ford's across the plain states and into the Pacific Coast.
Pollsters stressed that the defeat represented a loss of faith in Carter. Only about two-thirds of the voters who supported the president in 1976 stuck with him yesterday, and exit polls showed higher levels of trust for the GOP challenger.
Two debates--one in the March snows of New Hampshire and the other barely a week ago in industrial Cleveland--helped boost Reagan above the incumbent.
The first will be remembered for Reagan's assertion that "I paid for this microphone," a declaration observers said helped him to an overwhelming victory in the Granite State primary and that squelched the momentum of the GOP challenger and now vice president-elect George Bush.
In the second debate, under heavy attack on his record from Carter, Reagan turned to the president and said, "There you go again," a line repeated again and again in Reagan commercials during the closing week of the battle.
Anderson's independent candidacy may have cost Carter victory in a single state--Connecticut--and narrowed his margin in Massachusetts, where strong student turnouts in Amherst and Cambridge gave the independent at least 16 per cent of the vote.
But the depth of the nation's conservativism was proved by the impressive victories of other Republican senatorial and congressional candidates and by the size of the Republican margin in states that normally vote Democratic.
Carter's showing was slightly better than that of the Democratic candidate George McGovern, who won only 17 electoral votes in 1972. The president was close to the electoral vote total of Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and Barry Goldwater in 1964.
Among third party candidates, Libertarian Ed Clark and Citizens Party standard-bearer Barry Commoner both showed up in the vote totals of many states.
Carter, who had trailed badly in midsummer, fought Reagan to a near-draw in the polls before last week's debate.
That tilt gave Reagan a slight "bump" in the polls, an edge that apparently grew over the weekend as the president failed in his attempts to bring the American hostages in Iran home before the election
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