Looking back at Jimmy Carter’s 1980 downtown Dayton visit, which had a dark side

Jimmy Carter, the oldest living former president in U.S. history, turned 99 years old on Sunday.

More than four decades ago, then-President Carter stopped in Dayton on Oct. 2, 1980, during a re-election campaign swing through the Midwest.

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

Carter, who was being challenged by former California Gov. Ronald Reagan at the time, landed in Air Force One at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base at 11:10 a.m. that day.

This was Carter’s first visit to the Gem City as president. The last time he had been in town was June 4, 1976, while campaigning in that year’s Ohio primary election.

Dayton Mayor James H. McGee greeted the president at the base along with Montgomery County Democratic chairman Joe Shump and 500 base civilian employees.

An armored limousine whisked the president to downtown Dayton, where he would hold his 21st "town meeting" at the Dayton Convention and Exhibition Center.

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

Outside close to 700 people, many holding Carter/Mondale placards and cameras, gathered behind barricades on Fifth Street to catch a glimpse of Carter.

A band played “Happy Days Are Here Again,” according to an account in the Dayton Daily News, and a boisterous crowd waved banners.

Inside the convention center, 1,400 citizens chosen in a lottery drawing sat in rows of orange and yellow chairs.

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

The Meadowdale High School band played “Rock Around the Clock,” and signs hanging in the convention center read: “President Carter’s Wright For Dayton” and “Gem City is Jimmy’s Jewel.”

In his opening remarks Carter praised the American worker as “the most productive, the best paid and the most united,” according to the Dayton Daily News.

He also pledged to renew his efforts to make America’s energy network more independent by expanding coal production to weaken the grip of Middle East oil production nations.

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

Carter attacked Reagan’s economic proposals and told the crowd that he “is the candidate who can best lead the country along a path of prosperity and security,” according to the newspaper.

Members of the audience took turns asking questions ranging from the conflict in the Middle East, tax credits for college and his policy on chemical warfare.

Harlan Lewis, a Northmont High School student, asked Carter if he were not running for president if he would favor Reagan or the Independent candidate John Anderson.

“Well, during every town hall meeting, I try to pick out one question I don’t answer,” Carter said.

“I believe the country would prefer a Democratic president. If I couldn’t run, my choice would be Fritz Mondale.”

A darker side to the visit

Carter lost the presidential election to Ronald Reagan. Just 69 days after Reagan took office, he was shot by would-be assassin John Hinckley.

Investigators discovered that Hinckley had stalked President Carter and was in Dayton for that Oct. 2, 1980, campaign event.

A photograph of the registration card he filled out for the Sheraton Hotel in Dayton shows that he signed in with his own name and identified himself as a writer.

A 1982 Dayton Daily News article said Hinckley requested a room with a view of the Convention Center. He was given room 818 and was charged $35.52.

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