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How a Plate of Tamales May Have Crushed Gerald Ford's 1976 Presidential Campaign

Gerald Ford was running for a second term in 1976 against Jimmy Carter. At a campaign stop in San Antonio, Texas to visit the Alamo, Ford was offered a plate of tamales. This is where things took a dark turn.

by Wyatt Marshall
Nov 8 2016, 8:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Daniel Dionne

Food on the campaign trail is a minefield for political candidates who have to figure out how to seem relatable enough to try out the local chow while avoiding an embarrassing eating photo. And though not everyone can dive headfirst into a smorgasbord everyday like campaign eating legend John Kasich, politicians can do their best to not pull a Gerald Ford, who, according to former Arkansas Governor and Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, may have lost the presidential election in '76 because he didn't know how to eat a tamale.

Gerald Ford was running for a second term in 1976 against Jimmy Carter after attaining America's highest office in the wake of Richard Nixon's resignation. At a campaign stop in San Antonio, Texas to visit the Alamo, Ford was offered a plate of tamales. This is where things took a dark turn.

He picked one up, and, without removing the corn husk, bit right into it. And thus, the Great Tamale Incident of 1976 was born.

The Mayor of San Antonio at the time, Lila Cockrell, told the Houston Chronicle that she thought Ford "just picked up the plate because if someone had given him the plate, the tamales would not have had the shucks… He didn't know any better. It was obvious he didn't get a briefing on the eating of tamales." Veteran CBS news correspondent Bob Schieffer recalls that Ford "nearly choked."

Image via CBS News.

Ford in action during the tamale incident. Image via CBS News.

Mike Huckabee, who was living in Texas at the time, said the tamale blunder became a media focal point, and that it may have hurt Ford dearly.

"Every newscast in Texas all weekend long, all they did was show Gerald Ford not knowing how to eat a tamale," Huckabee told Sporkful. "To this day I am convinced that it was that gaffe with the tamale that cost him the state of Texas. Carter won Texas and Carter won the presidency, and it may have been a tamale that did it."

Presidential candidates spend decades developing policy, grooming their images, and working to pass meaningful legislation to fall back on come campaign season. But Ford, who at the time held the most powerful office in the land, may have had his dreams of reelection crushed simply by a tamale no-no.

Perhaps there was some solace for Ford amidst tamale dejection; the tamale in question was in Texas, known for its incredible Mexican food, so once someone showed him how to remove the husk, it was probably pretty good. Now, we'll never know.