Ronald Reagan's long quest for the Republican presidential nomination ended in triumph tonight when he accepted the mandate of a party he remade in his own image.
For Reagan, the nomination was the victorious culmination of his third presidential campaign. For the Republican Party, it was the completion of a political revolution that began in 1964 when Barry Goldwater wrested the GOP from the leadership of its eastern dynasty and turned the party of Abraham Lincoln into its current course of Sun Belt conservatism.
Moments after the convention acted, Reagan made an unprecedented nomination-night appearance before the roaring delegates in Joe Louis Arena to announce that he had chosen George Bush -- and not Gerald Ford -- as his running mate. The convention -- a majority of delegates favored Bush, who proved Reagan's most persistent challenger in the primaries -- erupted in new applause.
Ford, said Reagan, had come to the conclusion he could be of more value "campaigning his heart out" for the ticket. And Bush, a supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, which Reagan opposes and the Republican platform dodges, had promised to support the platform "across the board."
The party united tonight behind the conservative doctrine that had divided it 16 years ago. And it united especially behind Reagan, whose political career was launched during that same campaign by a memorable speech on behalf of Goldwater.
Reagan clinched this nomination long before the convention, starting as the Republican favorite and winning 29 of the 33 primaries he contested.
But the traditional roll call of states coming after a spirited show of support for defeated Reagan rival George Bush, was a symbolic demonstration of the long and sometimes difficult road to victory the winner had trod.
First, there were repeated strains of "California Here I Come" as Nancy Reagan, the influential wife of the Republican nominee, entered Joe Louis Arena to witness the moment of her husband's triumph.
Then, after the introduction of Republican chairmen past and present, came the nomination for president. Under GOP rules, this must be done by the state in alphabetical order, and 28 delegates obediently yielded so that Sen. Paul Laxalt of Nevada, Reagan's national chairman, could place the name of his good friend in nomination.
"The great state of Alabama," as always, was first in the roll call that followed. It gave Reagan all of its 27 delegates votes and symbolized the southern base that helped launch Reagan's first presidential candidacy in 1968.
Alaska with 12 delegates, was a symbol, too. It was there that fundamentalist associated with the Moral Majority this year took over the state's Republican Party. Reagan has widespread support in this constitutuency throughtout the West and the South.
There was Arizona, cradle of the Goldwater revolution, with 28 delegate votes for Reagan. And California, with its winner-take-all delegation, where Maureen Reagan, the candidate's eldest daughter, proudly cast all 168 votes for "my father."
Many of the older California delegates were members of the favorite-son delegation pledged to him at the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach. Others were young state legislators or party workers who have followed Reagan's banner and looked to him for leadership since his first election.
The first eastern state in the roll call was Connecticut, carried in the March 25 primary by Bush, but now casting its 35 votes for Reagan. But Bush had loyally worked the state delegations Tuesday and today, urging his delegates to support a Reagan ticket.
Iowa, where it all began with the precinct caucuses Bush carried in surprise victory Jan. 12, cast all of its 37 delegate votes for Reagan. But it was in this state, more than any other where Reagan's choice of a running mate struck a responsive chord.
While many of the delegates on the floor were hailing the apparent choice of Ford, Iowa's Mary Louise Smith, a former national GOP chairman, was still singing Bush's praises.
The first non-Reagan delegates -- and the only boos of the evening except for when the band played the Ohio State fight song before the Michigan crowd -- came when Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson rose to say that the laws of his state required 21 votes to be cast "for a man whose name has not been place in nomination -- John Anderson."
A chorus of boos arose, as it did a few minutes later when nine ballots from Massachusetts were cast for Anderson, the Republican congressman from Illinois now running as an independent.
Reagan is from Illinois, too, where he grew up in the small town of Dixon in the 1920s, and Thompson silenced most of the booing by saying that Illinois cast the remaining 81 of its votes for Reagan.
It was in Illinois where Reagan worked his way through Eureka College in the depths of the Depression at a time his father was working for Roosevelt's New Deal administration doling out relief for the unemployed of Dixon. And it was in Illinois this year that Reagan demonstrated he could attract crossover votes from working-class participants in a primary where he defeated both Anderson and Bush.
And so it went, through the roll call.
"Kentucky, home of beautiful women, fast horses and great basketball teams, casts its 27 votes for Ronald Reagan," said Rep. Gene Snyder.
"Pennsylvania, home of the world champion Pittsburgh Pirates and world champion Pittsburgh Steelers," cast 83 votes for Reagan," said Gov. Richard Thornburgh.
The honor fell to Montana, "the Big Sky State," to put Reagan over the 998 votes he needed for nomination, an action that was purely ceremonial.
Reagan is expected to get the votes of such unpopulous western states, which he also carried overwhelmingly in 1976 against Gerald Ford. But tonight he also received the entire 123 votes of New York -- symbolic of the northeast strategy successfully launched for Reagan by his since-deposed campaign manager, John P. Sears.
One of the seconding speeches tonight came from Richard Rosenbaum of New York. Four years ago he was Nelson A. Rockefeller's hand-picked state chairman and he kept New York solidly in line against Reagan on behalf of Ford.
The final totals were: Reagan 1,939 delegate votes, Anderson 37, Bush 13 (from Michigan, where he defeated Reagan nearly 2 to 1 in the May 20 primary) and uncommitted 4.
While the Republican convention tonight was held in the eastern time zone, it had a western flavor, with cowboy hats and boots conspicous on the convention floor. And it was no accident that the man who placed Reagan's name in nomination was a westerner.
Like the man whose name he placed in nomination, Laxalt is a symbol of the conservative, westward drift of his party, a Republican governor of neighboring Nevada when Reagan was governor of California, an advocate of school prayer and lower taxes, and a foe of welfare, abortion and the Panama Canal treaties.
"What this man has done to bring our party together he can do to bring our country together," Laxalt declared as he put Reagan's name in nomination to rousing cheers and a 25-minute demonstration.
The success that Reagan and his party celebrated tonight did not come easily neither for the candidate or the conservative wing of the GOP.
Reagan burst into national political attention on Oct. 27, 1964, with a speech for Goldwater in which he declared: "We must preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth or we can sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness."
But Goldwater lost the election that year in one of the most one-sided presidential contests in history. Though Reagan won the California governorship two years later, his abortive campaign for the presidency in 1968 proved and easy mark for Richard M. Nixon's hard-eyed operatives.
Reagan tried again in 1976, taking the unlikely route of attempting to oust an appointed president, to whom he is now offering the vice presidential nomination. But Gerald Ford won a narrow victory in New Hampshire and four other primaries in succession, almost knocking Reagan out of the 1976 race.
By any normal standard of politics, Reagan was washed up. He was 65 years old, and his campaign was out of money and short of hope.
His claim that the United States was about to betray its legacy by giving away the Panama Canal to "a tinhorn dictator" sounded -- to his critics -- misguided and shrill. His half-hour television shows in which he discussed the failings of American foreign policy in apocalyptic tones seemed hopelessly out of date in an era devoted to cinema verite and the 30-second television spot.
But Reagan refused to quit. Acting out the Horatio Alger qualities of "luck and pluck," which he celebrated in his speeches, he had a one-word reply to the persistent question about when he would drop out of the race -- "never." Finally, he refused even to answer the question.
And when he won the North Carolina primary, to the surprise of Ford and the news media, he started on the road to the victory he claimed tonight.
Failing narrowly to wrest the 1976 nomination from Ford, Reagan began the '80 campaign as the consensus conservative who led in all the polls. He made the lead stand up, winning 29 of 33 primaries despite campaign blunders, financial difficulties and questions about age, hearing and a supposed lack of mental capacity.
In a sense, the nomination Reagan claimed tonight was as much a triumph for his party as himself.
Bitterly divided between its Eastern and Western wings in the 1960s, and shattered by the Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration, the Republicans have battled back, even as Reagan did in the dark hours of North Carolina.
While Reagan has been preaching the same verities and sounding the same battle cries, the nation has been growing steadily more conservative, enabling the GOP to find consensus on the issues that divided the party a decade and a half ago.
Inflation, high taxes and declining productivity at home and diminished U.S. military power abroad have made Americans more receptive to the Reagan litany of limited domestic government and a strong defense. The yearning for a simpler, out-of-date America which was once the chief complaint about conservatives has now become their banner.
In this context, Reagan's acceptance of the nomination tonight is the historical and appropriate culmination of what has happened to the candidate and his nation. For more than any other politician, it is Ronald Reagan who symbolizes the conservatism which has not become synonymous with the Republican Party.