October 04, 1976 12:00 PM

Hi, I’m Steve Ford and I’m campaigning for my father, who is running for President of the United States.” The speaker is blond, blue-eyed, a strapping 6’1″ (with a chipped front tooth) and is the second youngest member of the First Family.

Steve, 20, has embarked on a 6,000-mile, 11-state campaign expedition for his father. Trailing after Steve’s Travel Queen motor home were two campers full of Secret Service agents and three cars stuffed with reporters.

Steve, a fervid outdoorsman who once said he preferred bulldogging to politics, says his change of heart occurred at the GOP Convention in August. “Kansas City really got me excited,” he says. He announced his decision to join the campaign while the Ford family was vacationing in Vail, Colo. “I’ll never forget the smile on his face when I said, ‘Dad, I’d like to quit school this fall and campaign full-time,'” says Steve. Betty Ford was less impressed. Says Steve: “Her first question was, ‘When are you going back to school?'”

It was a fair question. Steve hasn’t exactly galloped in his pursuit of a degree. After high school he worked for part of a year as a cowhand on a Montana ranch; then he enrolled at a California rodeo school. When he finally entered Utah State University he had a hard time making it to class. After one wobbly quarter he transferred to Cal Poly at Pomona. He currently is in his sophomore year and is studying animal husbandry.

At Steve’s first stop in Newport Beach, Calif., he told shoppers at a grocery store, “This is my way of paying my father back for all that he’s done for me.” In Bakersfield, dressed in jeans and a sportshirt, he walked through the crowd pressing flesh, kissing babies and smiling patiently while teenage girls squeaked, “He’s cute!” One woman remarked, “Oh, I feel so guilty. I shook his hand and I’m not even going to vote for his father.”

An hour later, slouched in a swivel chair in his rented van, his feet shod in pointy, hand-tooled cowboy boots, Steve considered his role. Also in the van were two friends—Greg Willard, 22, a Westminster College graduate, and Kevin Kennedy, 20, a junior at the University of Virginia. “I wanted to bring the campaign to the rural areas,” said Steve as he gazed out the window at the parched San Joaquin Valley between Bakersfield and Fresno. “I wanted to talk to people who ordinarily don’t have an opportunity to meet someone involved in a campaign. I’d much rather put on a pair of Levi’s and go talk to farmers or to people in a shopping center than put on a suit and go to a fund raiser.”

The next day, nonetheless, he climbed into a suit and went to a Baptist church in Fresno. Later that day he visited a children’s hospital, then a vineyard at Fresno State College.

“Last week I talked to my father every night,” he says. “I tell him about my feelings, and what people say to me. He is a very simple man, very basic. I love him.

“Before I was a President’s son I always wondered what someone in the White House did, and then suddenly I was there. It hasn’t made a difference. I know where I’m headed.”

Into politics? “No,” Steve says, “I’ve come as close to it as I ever want to. If I were President I’d probably build a log cabin and lake on the White House grounds.”

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