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John Anderson, who ran against Reagan and Carter in 1980, dies at age 95

By New York Times
FILE - In this July 2, 1980 file photo, Independent presidential candidate Rep. John Anderson of Illinois ponders a question from reporters during a press conference in Washington. The former Illinois congressman and presidential candidate has died. A family statement says the 95-year-old Rockford Republican died Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Washington, D.C. Anderson served ten terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1980. He later waged an independent campaign against Democratic President Jimmy Carter and GOP challenger Ronald Reagan. Anderson received 7 percent of the national vote.(AP Photo/Ira Schwarz) CER205

John Anderson, a former Republican congressman from Illinois who bolted his party to run as a plain-spoken independent candidate for president in 1980, drawing an enthusiastic if transient following among liberals and college students, died Sunday night in Washington. He was 95.

His family announced his death in a statement, the Associated Press reported.

In his first three years in the House of Representatives, starting in 1961, Mr. Anderson, a former prosecutor and a decorated World War II veteran, received a zero rating from the liberal group Americans for Democratic Action. Not long after entering the Capitol, he proposed a constitutional amendment declaring that "this nation devoutly recognizes the authority and law of Jesus Christ, Savior and Ruler of nations."

The measure never came to a vote, and he later apologized for it.

Though his views began to moderate, he was still conservative enough in 1969 for the Republicans to elect him chairman of the House Republican Conference, the third-ranking leadership position. He held the post through 1979, though not without fighting off challenges from the right. By then, the ADA had put his voting record in the mid 40s, and he had harshly criticized President Richard Nixon, a fellow Republican, over his handling of the Watergate scandal.

The United States was struggling with a recession, a severe energy crisis and the protracted Iranian hostage crisis in 1980 when Mr. Anderson gave up a safe seat in the House of Representatives to seek the Republican presidential nomination. When that try fizzled, he reintroduced himself as an independent.

For a while he had the national spotlight, a 58-year-old maverick whose prematurely white hair, horn-rimmed glasses and clearheaded presentation gave him the air of a genial professor who was not so much above the fray as he was unwilling to play by its rules.

Mr. Anderson refused to pander, telling voters in Iowa that he favored President Jimmy Carter’s embargo on grain sales to the Soviet Union after it had invaded Afghanistan. He called for a gasoline tax of 50 cents per gallon — when a gallon cost $1.15 — to save energy.

His backers promoted his campaign style as "the Anderson difference," but despite it — or perhaps because of it — he never finished better than second in a Republican primary. That came in Illinois, his home state, which he had expected to win. When he did not, losing to Ronald Reagan by less than 12 points (Reagan was born in Illinois), he decided to run as an independent.

Drawing support from moderate to liberal Republicans and liberal Democrats and finding a receptive audience on college campuses, Mr. Anderson did well in the polls at the start. But his support drifted as voters turned to candidates who they believed could actually win the White House. On Election Day, when Reagan won in a landslide, Mr. Anderson ended up with 6.6 percent of the popular vote.