Few states had more to do with Ronald Reagan's success than North Carolina.
The former California governor's national ambitions were in jeopardy in early 1976, before the North Carolina Republican presidential primary.
He had failed in his early primary challenges against President Gerald Ford. But when he got to North Carolina, his campaign was taken over by Republican Sen. Jesse Helms and his sidekick, Raleigh attorney Tom Ellis. They made the Panama Canal the signature issue, as Reagan pulled off a historic upset, breathing new life into his presidential effort.
"We bought it, we paid for it, it's ours and we're going to keep it," Reagan said of the canal.
"Without his performance in North Carolina," wrote biographer Lou Cannon, "both in person and on television, Reagan would have faded from contention ... and it's unlikely that he would have won the presidential nomination four years later."
Today is the 100th anniversary of Reagan's birth. Reagan went on to become a revered figure in conservative circles.
But although Reagan is now regarded as the gold standard of conservatism, he is often viewed through the foggy mists of time.
Reagan sharply reduced the tax rate, built up the military, and delivered a sharper anti-communist message. But he also raised some taxes, agreed to an arms control deal with the Soviets, paid only lip service to the social issues and did other things that left conservatives hot around the collar.
Helms, North Carolina's Mr. Conservative, was proud of his role in helping elect Reagan and revered him as a genuine leader of conservatism. But Helms was always worried that the Reagan administration would be hijacked by Republican moderates and engaged in an eight-year battle for Reagan's soul.
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