Don't worry, GOP: The Democrats ran 17 candidates in 1976, and America elected Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter may have some lesson for today's GOP
(Image credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

There are 17 Republicans running for the 2016 presidential nomination, and if that sounds like an unprecedented circus, it at least isn't unprecedented, notes historian Julian Zelizer at Politico. About that many candidates ran for the Democratic nomination in 1976, and they were just as motley a crew: Lots of prominent U.S. senators, some former governors, and a handful of longshot activists and non-politicians. Newspaper commentators at the time predicted that the Democrats would eat themselves and emerge from the primary contest divided and bruised. Instead, a virtually unknown peanut farmer and former Georgia governor named Jimmy Carter used a novel campaign strategy to win the Democratic nomination, then united his party and beat incumbent President Gerald Ford (R).

There are some similarities in the slate of candidates — the establishment flameouts, the successful mavericks — but also "numerous differences between the Democratic competition in 1976 and the Republican contest today," Zelizer warns.

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