A former actor named Ronald Reagan receives the Republican nomination for governor of California on this day in 1966. He won the election that November and was sworn in on January 2, 1967. Reagan’s tenure as the Golden State’s governor gave him credibility as a political leader, paving the way for his victory in the 1980 presidential election.
Reagan was born in Illinois and worked as a construction worker, lifeguard and radio announcer before becoming an actor. His first stint at political leadership was as president of the Screen Actors’ Guild from 1947 to 1952. Originally a Democrat, Reagan had grown dissatisfied with New Deal policies and in 1960 switched to the Republican Party. He then started putting his Hollywood fame to work campaigning for Republican candidates. Eventually, Reagan’s charisma and popularity as an actor and a rousing speech he delivered in support of presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964 convinced the California Republican Party to back him for governor in 1966.
Reagan served two terms as governor of California from 1967 to 1975, presiding over the tumultuous Vietnam War protest era of the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1969, he called on National Guard troops to quell a protest on the University of California at Berkeley campus, saying, “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with, no more appeasement.” His first two presidential campaigns, in 1968 and 1976, failed, but his stature as a national player in politics rose with both attempts. In 1980, he successfully challenged embattled Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter for the presidency, and ushered in an era of New Conservatism in American politics.
Reagan was the first actor to be elected president after two centuries dominated by lawyers and soldiers. He was also the only California governor to hold the office. He served as the 40th president for two terms between 1981 and 1989.