John B. Anderson was a 10-term Republican congressman from Illinois, decorated World War II veteran, lawyer, and skilled orator, but he will be remembered most for his third-party presidential run in 1980, when his National Unity ticket earned 7 percent of the vote and helped deliver a landslide for Ronald Reagan. Anderson died Sunday at his home in Washington, daughter Diane Anderson confirmed Monday. He was 95.
Anderson, born in 1922 to Swedish immigrants, won an open House seat in 1960, entering Congress as a conservative Republican opposed to President John F. Kennedy's agenda. By the end of the decade, he was known as a fiscal conservative and social liberal, and he left the Republican Party for good in 1980 after quitting the GOP primaries to run as an independent. His campaign, and erudite speeches, attracted what President Jimmy Carter's campaign dismissed as the Northeastern liberal "wine and cheese set." Paul Newman offered to make campaign ads for Anderson and TV producer Norman Lear promoted his campaign in newspaper ads.
On Election Day 1980, Anderson's 5.7 million votes came more from Carter than Reagan. "He didn't have any real hope of winning," David Gillespie, an expert on third-party candidates, tells the Los Angeles Times. "I think what he wanted to do was provide an alternative to more progressive Republicans, as the party of Lincoln became the party of Reagan that particular year, and also to provide an alternative to Democrats." Anderson never ran for office again, returning to practicing law, teaching at universities, and writing books and editorials. He is survived by his wife, Keke; a son, John Jr.; daughters Eleanora, Diane, Karen, and Susan; and 11 grandchildren.