Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.), an unannounced but probable presidential contender, said today that any attempt by former president Gerald R. Ford to seek the GOP nomination next year would cause a rerun of the 1976 party bloodletting, "the last thing on earth the Republican Party wants."
He made his comments at a news conference on the last day of the National Federation of Republican Women's convention, at which 10 of the 11 announced or potential GOP presidential contenders appeared. Ford did not.
Ronald Reagan, the GOP frontrunner, attacked big government and waht he called U.S. foreign policy weaknesses in the final speech of the convention. But the former California governor did not do any campaigning among the 3,500 delegates, as other candidates did, and left quickly for an appearance in Dallas.
The spectre of a Democratic candidacy by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) hung over the two days of Republican speechmaking.
Baker said a Kennedy candidacy would cause "a real donnybrook" in the Democratic Party. Likening the Democratic scene to past GOP primary battles, he said, "I think there's going to be blood on the floor and I think this time it's going to be Democratic blood."
Asked what would happen to the field of Republicans if Ford entered the fray, Baker said: "My hunch is it would become a repetition of the race of 1976. I think that's the last thing on earth the Republican Party wants, a return of '76. We've still got some of our blood on that floor."
Earlier, Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), Ford's 1976 running mate, warned the party against trying to match Kennedy's charisma with that of former Texas governor John B. Connally.