|Ellen McCormack, 1975.|
40 Years Ago this week, Ellen McCormack, pro-life columnist, wife and mother, was nominated for president at the Democratic National Convention (July 14th, 2016). She wasn’t a household name, although she did have some name recognition—her columns were carried in Catholic publications like The Wanderer and her other claim to fame was having organized the first large-scaled pro-life march in New York City in 1971, rallying 10 000.
Ellen McCormack ran for president at the behest of a small pro-life group—The Pro-Life Action Committee—that operated out the Cure of Ars Parish in Merrick, New York. The goal was to use the campaign as a platform to educate the public on pro-life issues by taking advantage of election rules which required the media to give all candidates equal time. Relying on thousands of grassroots pro-lifers across the country, she managed to raise $5000 in small contributions in 20 states, becoming the first woman in American history to qualify for matching funds. Her campaign was not without some controversy. Her single-issue candidacy annoyed political elites so much that they voted a change in funding rules in the middle of the election. As of May 1976, any candidate who did not gain more than 10% in two successive primaries would no longer be eligible for public money. Nevertheless, she had managed to raised $280 000 in small donations, received $240 000 from matching funds for a grand total of half a million dollars, of which $330 000 paid for television advertising.
McCormack was also the first woman candidate to qualify for Secret Service protection, which, considering the fringe nature of her operation, led to some humorous situations. For instance, when McCormack was scheduled to speak at a ballroom, the Secret Service told PLAC’s New Jersey representative that they would have to “sweep the ballroom”. “Oh you don’t have to bother,” said the naïve rep, “I’ll sweep the ballroom before Ellen speaks!”
Overall, she received 243 000 votes in 20 States, with a total of 1.4% of the vote, placing 11th in a field of 18 candidates. Her best showing was in Vermont, where she gained 8.6% of the Vote, and in Nebraska, where she placed third in the primary. She won a total of 22 delegates. Jimmy Carter’s nomination for President was not unanimous, as some sources had maintained.
Her main accomplishment was in keeping the abortion issue alive in a period where politicians desperately wanted the issue to go away. She was featured in human interest stories in newspapers and magazines. (Here's an article on her in New York magzine.) The mainstream political media mostly ignored her, except to complain of her single-issue candidacy. However, her commercials educating people on pro-life issues reached a total of 190 million people. (See below)
Anyone in reading up on the McCormack campaign can read Jane Gilroy’s book: A Shared Vision: The 1976 Ellen McCormack Presidential Campaign. (Only $1.99!)