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Ronald Reagan's Emergence as "The Great Communicator" Reagan's speeches on the economy, shrinking government, and optimism won over voters. Even before he became one of the most iconic presidents in American history, Ronald Reagan was a successful actor, athlete, corporate spokesman and governor of California. After his long film career in Hollywood, Reagan first garnered national political attention in 1964 when he gave his famous “Time for Choosing” speech in support of ill-fated Republican nominee Barry Goldwater.
In 1976, with the Republican Party still reeling from Watergate, Reagan decided to challenge sitting president Gerald Ford in one of the most contested primaries in GOP history. The 65-year-old staunch conservative had previously run in 1968 and many felt this might be his last time around the track. Reagan was slow off the block, losing the first six contests, but would rally to win 12. This was enough to ensure that Ford would not have enough delegates to clinch the nomination ahead of the party’s August convention in Kansas City.
At that convention, Reagan staged a bold rules fight, but ultimately lost on the first ballot to Ford. He gave an inspirational speech, without notes, that would secure his position as the figurehead of a blossoming conservative movement within the party. Reagan would eventually win the presidency in 1980, holding office for two terms and presiding over what would be called the Reagan Revolution, including a revamping of the tax code and the winding down of the Cold War. In 2004, he died at the age of 93.