George H.W. Bush, who died Friday at the age of 94, undoubtedly leaves mourners in Michigan, the state where he launched his ascent into nationwide political office by being nominated as Ronald Reagan’s Vice Presidential candidate at the 1980 Republican National Convention in Detroit.
“I accept! I enthusiastically support our platform and I pledge to you my total dedication and energies in a united effort to see to it that next January 20th Ronald Reagan becomes our 40th president,” he told that Detroit crowd in 1980.
He died on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018 at his home in Texas, according to The Associated Press. His wife, former First Lady Barbara Bush, died earlier this year.
After gaining the vice presidential nomination in Michigan, Bush’s visits to to the state spanned more than a decade, and he is the only president to have ever participated in the state’s annual walk of the Mackinac Bridge on Labor Day.
He did it while campaigning in 1992, and he set a brisk pace. A Grand Rapids Press account at the time described his pace as “torrid,” and said his wife and then-Gov. John Engler struggled to keep up.
A Massachusetts native, Bush served in the Navy and attended Yale before founding an oil company and beginning his political career. He was an ambassador before being nominated as the Republican party’s vice-presidential candidate in 1980.
Michiganders voted for that joint ticket in 1980, and they won the state with 49 percent of the vote over then-president Jimmy Carter. Michiganders helped propel the ticket to the White House for a second term in 1984, choosing the Republican ticket with 59 percent of the vote over Democratic challenger Walter Mondale.
And in 1988, when Bush topped the ticket in a presidential run of his own, Michiganders voted for him 54 to 46 percent over Michael Dukakis. He became the 41st president of the United States.
In 1992 Bush campaigned in Michigan, but ultimately lost the state and the White House to former president Bill Clinton.
Throughout all of those years Bush made campaign stops in the state by plane, train and automobile. He considered Michigan an important state to his election, he repeatedly said at campaign rallies.
“This state, your state, is a critical, important state,” he told those gathered at an event he held in Saginaw on Oct. 19, 1988.
And while in office, he delivered a commencement address at the University of Michigan in 1991.
Ann Arbor News accounts from that day indicate he drew large crowds, but also protests and controversy. Bush handled that dissent with diplomacy.
“…the freedom to speak one’s mind — that may be the most fundamental and deeply revered of all our liberties,” he said after a brief protester interruption at his commencement speech at the University of Michigan in 1991.
The Bush family grew close to several Michigan dignitaries, including Attorney General Bill Schuette. In his book Big Lessons from a Small Town, Schuette cites inspiration from both George H.W. and Barbara Bush. In a glowing note on the book’s jacket, Barbara Bush noted that she and George were proud to call Schuette a friend.
Bush’s son, President George W. Bush, visited Michigan but was unable to replicate his father’s results from the 1980s. It wasn’t until President Donald Trump won the state’s presidential vote in 2016 that another Republican was able to do so.