With less than a third of the votes counted and polls in the Western states still open, President Carter left the White House for his Washington campaign headquarters to concede his crushing defeat.
He appeared pale faced and grim in the packed hotal ballroom, surrounded by aides and fighting back tears to say.
“I promised four years ago that I would never lie to you, so I can’t stand here and say it does not hurt. You have made your decision and I have to accept it, but not with the same enthusiasm that I accepted your decision four years ago”.
He was given a tumultuous reception by those who have worked hardest and been closest to him for the last four years.
Carter said he had telephoned Reagan in Los Angeles to congratulate him and looked forward to working with him in the transitional period before the January inauguration.
His election strategy - ignoring his record in office to concentrate on presenting a caricature of Reagan as a Right Wing bogeyman who would plunge America into civil strife and international confrontation backfired disastrously.
One after another 69 year old Reagan captured states held comfortably by Carter in 1976 and piled up huge majorities in traditional Republican strongholds.
There was only one sour note on Reagan’s night of triumph. Millions of Americans gave their own damning verdict on both major candidates by staying away from the polling booths in spite of frantic attempts by Carter’s Democratic workers to mobilise their support.
As the votes were being counted, Reagan and his wife Nancy dined privately with old friends, who had helped to introduce the Hollywood actor whose career was comming to an end to a new interest - politics.
Later the Reagan family drove to the Plaza through streets decorated with tinsel and bunting in anticipation of victory.
He is the first man to beat an elected President since Franklin Rossevelt defeated Herbert Hoover in 1932 and the first to beat a Democratic President for 92 years.
He will become the oldest man to become President.
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