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The 1976 House of Representatives elections coincided with Democrat Jimmy Carter's election as United States President. Carter's victory over incumbent President Gerald Ford was by a narrow margin, and the Democratic Party only gained one seat in the House. Merlin Karlock, a real estate developer and entrepreneur, ran for the position of representative for Illinois District 17 as a Democrat, against incumbent Republican George O'Brien. Karlock's campaign theme was "Common Sense around the Clock" and he refused to accept any donation over $10. Karlock lost to O'Brien on Election Day, but still received over 80,000 votes. While he did not run for public office again, Karlock continued to advocate for education and local development in Illinois.