The presidential election of 2008 is eerily similar to the election of 1976. Here’s how:

Democrat Barack Obama is relatively new on the national scene. He is a smiling  presence who is promising to reform the system as an ‘outsider’.In 1976, Democrat Jimmy Carter, who became the nominee and then president, was relatively unknown. He smiled a lot and promised a new kind of politics.

Both Carter and Obama come from the party that did not control the White House.

In 1974, two years before Carter’s election, the Republicans in Congress suffered a huge defeat, a post-Watergate rout, just as the Republicans in Congress suffered a rout in 2006.

Carter was trying to get elected after a troubled 2-term presidency under Republican Richard Nixon, who was elected in 1968 after the Democrats had held the White House for 8 years. Nixon ended up serving for for five-and-a-half years then resigned in the Watergate scandal in August 1974 and Gerald Ford took over and completed his second term.

Obama is trying to get elected after Republican George W. Bush’s 2-term presidency has turned unpopular. Bush was elected in 2000 after the Democrats had held the White House for 8 years.

Bush was elected by defeating Democrat incumbent vice president Al Gore, while Nixon was elected by defeating Democrat incumbent vice president Hubert Humphrey.

Carter was a former state senator from Georgia, and then governor of Georgia. Barack Obama is a former state senator from Illinois who advanced to the US Senate from Illinois.

Neither seemed likely to be the party nominee before the primaries began.Carter surprised the establishment by winning the most votes of any candidate in the 1976 Iowa caucuses, behind “uncommitted”. Obama surprised the pundits by winning the Iowa caucuses outright.

On the Republican side, the primary contest in 1976 was between moderate incumbent president Gerald Ford and conservative California governor Ronald Reagan, just as moderate McCain in 2008 faced off against a more conservative governor in Mitt Romney.

Ford won the nomination, but conservatives did not like Ford just as conservatives today mistrust McCain. They said that Ford was negotiating away the Panama Canal and was not aggressive enough with the Soviet Union, just as conservatives have said that McCain is not tough enough on issues like immigration, campaign reform and taxes.

To please conservatives, Ford chose relatively conservative Kansas US senator Robert Dole as his running mate, just as McCain chose a relatively conservative running mate in governor Sarah Palin of Alaska.

In 1976, Carter chose liberal US senator Walter Mondale from Minnesota as his running mate, just as Obama has chosen a liberal US senator from Delaware, Joe Biden, as his running mate.

Ford was able to exploit his role as the incumbent president, just as McCain has been able to tout his long experience in politics and in military affairs.

The economy in 1976 was suffering many maladies as the economy is today. Carter, like Obama, touted himself as a “fresh face” who could change the economy for the better. Ford was labeled as a member of the party of the bad economy, just as McCain is today.

By Labor Day Carter held a huge lead over Ford, but the race was even by election day, just as Obama had a big lead early in the summer whereas the election likely will be even by election day. Because while Carter was appealing and voters wanted change, Americans did not necessarily trust Carter, just as they are skeptical about Obama.

In debates and in speeches, Ford repeatedly said that Carter lacked the experience to be president, just as McCain is saying that about Obama.

Two independents ran in 1976 – Eugene McCarthy and Roger MacBride, a libertarian from Vermont. Today, two major independent candidates are running, Ralph Nader and former GOP Georgia congressman Bob Barr as a libertarian.

Democrat Carter won the 1976 election with 50.1% of the popular vote and 297 electoral votes, while Ford got 48% of the popular vote and 240 electoral votes.

Carter turned out to be a terrible president. And if Obama wins on November 4, he will be the second term of Carter: He will bungle the economy and falter in foreign affairs, proving that conservatives were right about him in the first place.

And that will clear the way for a strong conservative to emerge and take the White House in 2012, perhaps Sarah Palin. But Mitt Romney also will be attractive after his primary run in 2008, just as Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980 after he failed to get the nomination in 1976.

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