DETROIT (AP) _ Former Rep. Guy Vander Jagt, who led House Republicans' election strategy for years and was a confidant of Gerald Ford before and during his presidency, died Friday. He was 75.
Vander Jagt (pronounced VAN der jack) died at a Washington hospice after a battle with pancreatic cancer, said Steve Lotterer, a longtime aide.
Vander Jagt, who began his political career in 1964 as a state senator, served in the U.S. House from 1966 to 1993. Known for his skill at oratory, he held various leadership posts, including the second-ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee.
For 18 years, 1974-92, he was also chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, which helps GOP House candidates nationwide with fundraising, organization and strategy.
Vander Jagt had already forged his close friendship with Ford while they served neighboring Michigan districts, at times sharing an office, Lotterer said.
Ford became president when Nixon resigned in 1974. Challenged by Ronald Reagan during the 1976 primaries, Ford sent Vander Jagt to debate the ''pesky governor from California,'' Lotterer said.
Ford went on to lose to Democrat Jimmy Carter that November. Four years later, Reagan tapped Vander Jagt to deliver the keynote address to the Republican National Convention in Detroit.
''Wake up, America!'' Vander Jagt said in the speech, likening the burdens on citizens to those during the American Revolution. ''This is your chance for a new beginning. Now, as then, it is time for a new uprising, a new direction, under new leadership.''
In 1992, Vander Jagt was defeated in the Republican primary, a rare upset of a sitting congressman. He and other members of the Ways and Means Committee had come under heavy criticism after they were taped on a taxpayer-funded trip to Barbados.
Said Vander Jagt at the time: ''There is a ferocious tide against incumbents running across the country, and I could not swim strongly enough to offset it.'' The GOP challenger, Pete Hoekstra, went on to win the seat in the general election and remains a congressman.
After leaving office, Vander Jagt was a public speaker and lobbyist.
Vander Jagt helped out at the funerals of both Reagan and Ford: He escorted former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at Reagan's funeral in 2004 and was a greeter for Ford's casket at the Capitol after his longtime friend died in December.
Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press