The Nation: How Ford Won and Reagan Lost

At Ronald Reagan's headquarters in Concord's dingy New Hampshire Highway Hotel, confident aides had chilled several bottles of Almadén blanc de blancs champagne for the expected victory party on primary night. The bottles were never opened. Next morning, as the campaign troupe decamped, Ronald Reagan Jr., 17, and other deflated supporters loaded the bubbly aboard the candidate's chartered Boeing 727—just in case there might be reason for popping their corks in Florida, Illinois or the other hard primaries ahead.

Reagan was doubly disappointed because he had blown the lead. After his first foray...

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