Recently, I ran across an old article by Ray Nothstine about Ronald Reagan's 1976 primary challenge to incumbent GOP establishment-guy Gerald Ford. Nothstine credits Sen. Jesse Helms and a refocusing on grassroots politics and exposition of conservative ideology in the Tar Heel State, with giving Reagan a victory unprecedented in political history. While the entire article is well worth the read, the most important lines for conservatives who seem to be increasingly tempted to despair in the face of the "inevitable" nomination of Romney are:
Reagan came into the 1976 North Carolina primary having lost the first five consecutive primaries to Ford. The national party establishment was against Reagan, the media started to write him off, and his campaign was broke and in debt. Needless to say, the pressure to drop out of the race was nearly overwhelming... Reagan’s victory meant it was the first time a sitting president had been defeated in a primary of a state where he actively campaigned. Many more primary victories for Reagan would follow.