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John Anderson, Republican Who Ran for President as Independent, Dead at 95

Longtime House member made 1980 a three-way race

Rep. John B. Anderson, center right, looks on as President Gerald R. Ford shakes hands with Rep. Ray John Madden. (Mickey Senkol/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. John B. Anderson, center right, looks on as President Gerald R. Ford shakes hands with Rep. Ray John Madden. (Mickey Senkol/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Rep. John B. Anderson, a Republican from Illinois who shook up the 1980 presidential race by running as an independent, died Sunday in Washington, D.C. He was 95.

From Rockford, Illinois, he was first elected in 1960 to the 87th Congress. He served 10 terms overall, and was a one-time chairman of the Republican Conference.

Anderson unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for the presidency in 1980. He lost to Ronald Reagan in the primary, and then decided to run as an independent in the general election, challenging Reagan and incumbent President Jimmy Carter. He lost again in the general election but still managed 5.7 million supporters, about 7 percent of the vote.

An Oct. 28 Cleveland presidential debate saw Anderson benched after a round of “it’s not fair” complaints from the other candidates.

Anderson and Reagan had debated the previous month in Baltimore while Carter boycotted, saying it was unfair to require him to face two Republicans.

Reagan, meanwhile, didn’t think it fair to leave out Anderson and had refused to go mano a mano with Carter.

By the time invitations circulated for the October debate, Anderson’s polling had slipped considerably, down to 8 percent. It had once been as high as 15 percent.

Anderson’s wife, Keke, was one of the first beneficiaries of extended Secret Service protection. Until 1980, major party candidates’ spouses received protection from the service from only 60 days before the general election.

Anderson’s daughter Diane told The Associated Press that after 20 years in the House, her father became disillusioned with the Republican Party and what he saw as its shift to the far right.

Data from CQ Almanac shows he voted with the 1980 conservative coalition in Congress just once and 13 times against.

Anderson graduated from Rockford High School in 1939 and from the University of Illinois in 1942.

World War II put Anderson in the Army, and he served from 1943 to 1945. At the war’s conclusion, his legal career began. He earned a law degree in 1946 before moving to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he continued his legal studies at Harvard University while teaching across the river at Northeastern University in Boston.

From there, Anderson ran a private practice. He would later become an adviser to the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, an Illinois state’s attorney and a political writer before his 1960 congressional bid.

After his career in politics, the Illinoisan worked as a visiting professor from coast to coast, appearing at Stanford University, Bryn Mawr College, Oregon State University, the University of Massachusetts, Nova Southeastern University and the law school at his alma mater, the University of Illinois.

Anderson is survived by his wife, five children and 11 grandchildren, according to the AP.

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