Milton Shapp 1976 presidential campaign

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Milton Shapp for President
Shapp for President 76 logo.svg
CampaignU.S. presidential election, 1976
CandidateMilton Shapp
40th Governor of Pennsylvania (1971–1979)
AffiliationDemocratic Party
StatusWithdrawn (lost primary)
Key peopleNorval Reece (Manager)

The Milton Shapp presidential campaign of 1976 began when then-Governor of Pennsylvania Milton Shapp elected to seek the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States in the 1976 election. Shapp had won reelection as Governor of Pennsylvania in the 1974 election[2]—the first Pennsylvania Governor to be elected to a second four-year term following an amendment permitting this in 1967[3]—and had hoped to translate his relative popularity in Pennsylvania into the groundwork of a presidential campaign.[4]

Shapp's campaign employed a strategy of garnering votes and delegates in the Northeastern United States to generate momentum to expand into a national campaign while generating more widespread support. This strategy proved unsuccessful, as indicated by low showings in early primaries, both within the northeast and elsewhere. Considered a long-shot for the nomination,[5] Shapp's campaign came to an end following his withdrawal after a poor showing in the Massachusetts and Florida primaries.[4]


Shapp entered politics in 1960 as an active supporter of future President John F. Kennedy's campaign during that year's election. In correspondence with President Kennedy's brother Robert, he played a role in the creation of the Peace Corps and served as an adviser in that organization during the Kennedy administration. Following his service in the Peace Corps, Shapp mounted his first campaign for the Governorship of Pennsylvania in the 1966 election. Running as the anti-political machine candidate, Shapp defeated the machine-endorsed candidate and future Governor Robert P. Casey in the Democratic primary. He went on to lose the general election to Republican Raymond P. Shafer.[4]

Shapp again sought the Governorship in the 1970 election, in which incumbent Governor Shafer was not a candidate for reelection (having been barred from running since he was elected prior to the 1967 amendment). He again defeated Bob Casey for the Democratic nomination, but this time was victorious in the general election. He defeated Shafer's Lieutenant Governor, Republican Raymond J. Broderick, and entered office in January 1971. Having gained a reputation as a populist and a consumer-advocate, Shapp won re-election in the 1974 election, defeating Republican Andrew L. Lewis, Jr..[4]

Campaign highlights[edit]

After expressing in mid-1975 a vested interest in and an intention to run in the 1976 election,[5] Shapp announced his candidacy for the Presidency of the United States on September 25, 1975, in Washington, D.C.[6][7] His campaign adopted a strategy of focusing efforts on garnering votes in the Northeastern United States, announcing he would compete in primary contests in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania despite skipping the New Hampshire primary. From the beginning of the campaign, Shapp had difficulty extending his appeal from the northeastern states. At a Democratic convention in Florida in November 1975, Shapp finished second out of ten candidates in a straw poll behind former Georgia governor and eventual winner Jimmy Carter, the only other candidate to make an appearance at the convention. Shapp entered the campaign relatively late and, as a result, had less time to organize in the primary states. Although he did not expect to win the Florida primary, he stated that he would be satisfied with a showing of 10 to 15 percent in order to prove he had extended his appeal from the northeast and had become a candidate with national appeal.[8]

Despite Shapp's attempts to expand his appeal beyond Pennsylvania and the northeast, he did not have success in the primaries. He finished with three percent of the vote in the Massachusetts primary on March 2, earning one delegate. After the poor showing in Massachusetts, expectations were lowered for the Florida primary by Shapp and his campaign staff, who expressed confidence in his ability to garner at least seven percent of the vote there. The March 9 Florida primary proved to be another disappointment; just over two percent of voters cast their ballots for Shapp, who did not earn any delegates and finished slightly behind the "uncommitted" option on the ballot.[9][10]

Shapp's finishes in Massachusetts and Florida prompted him to reconsider his campaign for the Presidency. In the days following the Florida primary, Shapp discussed his future with members of his campaign staff and family, as well as his supporters, after which he decided to end his campaign for the Democratic nomination on March 11. On the following day, March 12, Shapp formally announced his withdrawal from the Presidential race, but did not immediately endorse one of his former competitors, and stated that he would return to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to serve the remainder of his term as governor and concentrate his efforts on the passage of the state budget. In his withdrawal, Shapp stated that he did not have the time or money necessary to continue his campaign. He was the fourth candidate to withdraw from the Democratic primary race.[9][10][11]


After his withdrawal, Shapp became a speculated candidate for a Cabinet post or another appointment in a potential administration of one of his former competitors. Although Shapp stated that he was not seeking an appointment, he did not specify whether he would accept or decline one if offered, and fellow Democratic presidential candidate Mo Udall expressed an openness to considering Shapp for a Cabinet appointment should he be elected president.[9] Instead, Jimmy Carter eventually won the Democratic nomination and went on to defeat incumbent Republican President Gerald Ford in the November general election.[12] Shapp did not receive an appointment in the Carter administration.[4]

In May 1977, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) determined that Shapp was not eligible for federal public financing of his presidential campaign and he was subsequently ordered to repay the US$299,066 (equivalent to $1,316,765 in 2018) he had received in federal funds. The FEC ruled that the Shapp campaign had improperly reported contributions from five states of the twenty-state minimum requirement for federal funding.[13][4]

Following the 1976 campaign, Shapp returned to Pennsylvania to serve the remainder of his second term as governor. Although unsuccessful in running for president, Shapp is credited with creating the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, overseeing the passage of legislation requiring financial disclosure by Pennsylvania government officials, and implementing reforms to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Shapp served as governor until retiring from politics upon the inauguration of his successor, Republican Dick Thornburgh, in 1979.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Report of the Audit Division on the Shapp for President Committee" (PDF). Federal Election Commission. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
  2. ^ "Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Election Returns 1974". Wilkes University Election Statistics Project. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  3. ^ Wikisource:Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 1874/Amendments#Section 3: Terms of Office of Governor.3B Number of Terms.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Governor Milton J. Shapp". Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  5. ^ a b "Shapp will enter early '76 primaries". The Miami News. 10 June 1975. Retrieved 13 March 2013.
  6. ^ Lee, Lawrence (28 September 1975). "Word to Nation: Milton is Willin'". The Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved 13 March 2013.
  7. ^ "Shapp launches bid for Democratic presidential nomination". Boston Globe. 26 September 1975. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
  8. ^ Newman, Bud (18 November 1975). "'Milton Who' Gets a Name: Shapp Seeks Recognition Outside Northeast". The Palm Beach Post. Retrieved 13 March 2013.
  9. ^ a b c "Presidential Candidate Milton Shapp Withdraws". Observer-Reporter. 13 March 1976. Retrieved 24 March 2013.
  10. ^ a b McHugh, Roy (11 March 1976). "Florida Loss Pushes Shapp Farther From White House". The Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved 24 March 2013.
  11. ^ "Shapp withdraws from race for Democratic nomination". St. Petersburg Times. 13 March 1976. Retrieved 24 March 2013.
  12. ^ Leip, David. "1976 Presidential General Election Results". U.S. Election Atlas. Retrieved 24 March 2013.
  13. ^ "Shapp ordered to repay campaign funds". Beaver County Times. 11 May 1977. Retrieved 24 March 2013.

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