In 1980, one of the major party presidential nominees opened his general election by delivering a speech in a small town in the Deep South that just by coincidence happened to be the national headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan. That same candidate had previously complained about federal housing policies which attempted “to inject black families into a white neighborhood just to create some sort of integration.” He argued that there was “nothing wrong with ethnic purity being maintained.” That candidate was President Jimmy Carter, the Democratic nominee.
Carter kicked off his general election campaign with a speech in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Although the Klan’s headquarters were located in that small town, Carter was not appealing to the Klan vote, but was instead hoping to win the votes of the more than 40,000 people who saw him speak at the town’s annual Labor Day fair. Perhaps Carter chose to start his general election campaign in rural Alabama because he recognized that Reagan might take away some of the southern states that had been crucial to Carter’s win in 1976. As things turned out, Carter was right to be concerned; he ended up losing Alabama by 1%.
After the Republicans nominated Ronald Reagan in Detroit in July, he gave his first post-convention speech in New Jersey, near the Statue of Liberty. While the informal opening date of the general election campaign is traditionally Labor Day, Reagan continued to campaign during August, and on August 3, 1980, spoke at the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi. The Neshoba Fair is large and popular, which probably explains why Democratic Senator John Glenn campaigned there in 1983, when seeking the presidential nomination, and why Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis spoke there during the 1988 general election campaign, shortly after being nominated by the Democratic Convention. [...]