By Lily Rothman
July 13, 2015

By the summer of 1976, the pool of potential presidential candidates had winnowed to three: incumbent Gerald Ford, his Republican challenger Ronald Reagan and the Democrat Jimmy Carter. It was a situation tailor-made for the post-Watergate world, as shown in this exclusive clip from the upcoming episode of CNN’s The Seventies, which airs on Thursdays at 9:00 pm. Here’s how TIME handicapped the field at the time:

Now the choice is down to three—and they are among the most unusual politicians in the nation’s history. The next President of the U.S. will be either Jimmy Carter, the one-term Georgia Governor who has had the most spectacular political rise since Wendell Willkie in 1940; or Ronald Reagan, the two-term California Governor who staged the most successful challenge against an incumbent since Theodore Roosevelt took on William Howard Taft in 1912; or Gerald Ford, the longtime Michigan Congressman whom fate, Watergate and the 25th Amendment propelled into the Oval Office. Their status as survivors tells much about the changing state of the nation, the political parties and the voters’ mood.

Read the June 21, 1976, issue of TIME, here in the TIME Vault: Our Next President (Pick One)

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