'Work Hard, Study...and Keep Out of Politics!'

Unlike many politicians, well-known Republican James Baker didn't always want to work in Washington.

He got roped in to his life's work at the age of 40, by a tennis partner who would one day become president: George W. Bush.

In his memoir, Baker recounts his key roles in the administrations of Presidents Ford, Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

The title of his memoir came from advice his grandfather gave him long ago.

Of course, he went into politics anyway, and he now shares his experiences with readers.

Read an excerpt from "'Work Hard, Study ... and Keep Out of Politics!" below:

"Number One, I Don't Know Anything About Politics"

The presidential election was the tightest in a century. As the results came in, it was apparent that a small number of votes for my candidate or his opponent would swing the contest one way or the other. When I finally went to bed at 3:00 a.m., I was certain I would never see another race for president decided by such a narrow margin. Boy, was I wrong.

The 1976 race between Governor Jimmy Carter and President Gerald Ford was close. If there had been a shift of fewer than 5,600 votes in Ohio and 3,700 in Hawaii, Ford would have retained the presidency, winning the electoral vote while losing the popular election. But '76 now pales in comparison to the 2000 race between Vice President Al Gore and Governor George W. Bush. That one was decided by 537 votes in Florida and a 7 -- 2 margin in the U.S. Supreme Court more than a month after the balloting. As most everyone knows, although Gore won the popular vote, Bush prevailed in the Electoral College.

In 1970, as a forty-year-old Houston corporate lawyer who had little interest and no experience in politics, I could never have imagined that I would be intimately involved in either of these presidential contests, much less both. Nor could I ever have dreamed that I would lead five successive presidential campaigns for three different candidates. At the beginning of 1975, I was still practicing law in my hometown. By that fall, I was in Washington, D.C., second in command at the Department of Commerce. And by the summer of '76, I was campaign chairman for the Ford-Dole ticket. Who'da thunk it?

Before losing narrowly to Carter, we had come back from a double-digit deficit after the conventions. Many observers believe that if Ford-Dole had been Ford-Reagan, we would have won. So why didn't Ford tap Reagan for the second spot and create a dream ticket?

The actor-turned-politician from California was the obvious choice. He had a huge core of supporters, and he was a great campaigner. Moreover, he had just missed getting the nomination himself at what turned out to be the last closely contested national convention in this nation's history.

President Ford was not happy that Governor Reagan had mounted such a strong challenge against a sitting president. But other nominees have chosen runner-ups after bitter contests, particularly if those runner-ups could improve the chances of victory in November. John F. Kennedy picked Lyndon Johnson that way. While the chemistry between Ford and Reagan was not good, that alone didn't impel Ford to bypass Reagan. Most accounts say there was another reason.

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