“When in this country we license people to drive automobiles,” he added, “what is so wrong about proposing that we license guns to make sure that felons and mental incompetents don’t get ahold of them?”
He was roundly booed.
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 fewer than 12 points (Mr. 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. At one point, upward of one-fifth of voters said they preferred him to the major party nominees, Mr. Reagan and Mr. Carter, the Democrat, who was seeking re-election. Mr. Anderson peaked in June, when he was the choice of 24 percent of respondents in a Gallup poll, 25 percent in a Harris/ABC poll and 18 percent in a New York Times/CBS News poll.
His hopes were sustained by the volatility of the 1980 campaign, with its sudden swings of popularity. Mr. Carter’s Democratic challenger, Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, led by large margins in early polls, only to see the president recover and defeat him soundly in the primaries.
Mr. Reagan, the early Republican favorite, spent money lavishly, but lost to George Bush in the Iowa caucuses and trailed in national polls before a solid win in New Hampshire put him back on the road to the nomination. Mr. Anderson said he believed that the tide might turn in his favor in “the climactic phase of the campaign.”
So he pushed on, calling Mr. Carter a “mean and evasive” campaigner who used a recession and high unemployment to fight inflation, and criticizing Mr. Reagan’s campaign “one-liners,” calling them “slick and simplistic.”
But in a pattern familiar to independent candidates, Mr. Anderson’s support drifted as voters turned to candidates…