Last in line, and almost as an afterthought, the clever Mr. Connally feigned indignation and effectively asked, "Who is this Jimmy Carter? We don't know anything about him!"
It was a brilliant soliloquy aimed at planting doubts in voters' minds. Connally, so ably schooled in Texas politics, continued that theme for the next five minutes, dismantling Carter's promises of change and hope. The former Texas governor skillfully set the tone for the entire post- Labor Day Republican election campaign.
Weekly, Carter's numbers began to drop. It was so simple. Sow doubt and fear about the outsider from Georgia, the newcomer, inexperienced in international affairs in the age of the Soviet Union. Connally nurtured skepticism about Carter's ability to lead America out of the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate traumas.
Like Obama, Carter was promising hope and change. But the yearning for change was epidermal, and something more powerful was lurking deeper in the American psyche then, and I suspect, now. Connally played the fear card, the fear of the unknown candidate and what foreboding tragedies Carter's thin résumé in national politics might produce.
By the time Americans voted in November 1976, Carter had to stay up till nearly 3 o'clock in the morning to learn if he had really won. With polls closing so rapidly in Ford's favor, had the campaign lasted another week, I suspect Ford might well have won the presidency on his own terms, despite Watergate, embarrassing revelations about CIA scandals, and the humiliation of Vietnam.