Thirty-two years ago today, Rep. Phil Crane of Illinois, a leading conservative firebrand in the U.S. House of Representatives, abandoned his twenty-month quest for the Republican presidential nomination and endorsed conservative rival Ronald Reagan.
Crane, who had not actively campaigned since losing badly in his native Illinois primary on March 18th — a race in which he finished a distant fourth, polling a meager 24,865 votes, or barely 2 percent of the total — had timed his withdrawal to have a maximum impact on Reagan’s showing in the April 22nd Pennsylvania primary, where the former California governor was locked in a tight race with former UN Ambassador George H. W. Bush.
Making his withdrawal announcement in a speech on the floor of the House and later at a press conference, the 49-year-old conservative lawmaker promised to campaign vigorously for Reagan, with whom he had consulted by telephone a day earlier. “I will actively campaign, as I have done in the past, to insure the nomination of Ronald Reagan and will work for his election,” said Crane, a former college history professor.
Overshadowed from the outset by his better-known conservative rival with whom he shared an almost identical philosophy, Crane maintained throughout the campaign that the only difference between Reagan and himself was that Reagan wanted military parity with the Soviet Union while he desired absolute military superiority.
Crane was the sixth candidate to drop out of the once-crowded GOP field, joining Senate Republican leader Howard Baker, former Treasury Secretary John B. Connally, Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, Sen. Lowell Weicker of Connecticut and 38-year-old freshman Sen. Larry Pressler of South Dakota.
Crane’s departure from the race left only five contenders in the race — Reagan, Bush, Rep. John B. Anderson of Illinois, perpetual candidate Harold E. Stassen, the one-time “boy wonder” of American politics who entered more than twenty primaries that year, and little-known businessman Benjamin Fernandez of Los Angeles.
Anderson withdrew from the GOP contest a few days later, announcing that he would run as an independent.
Crane, who officially entered the GOP presidential sweepstakes on August 20, 1978, had only four delegates to show for his efforts — all of whom quickly switched to Reagan.