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Mateusz Popiel
Justin Rhudolph
The United States presidential election of 1968 was a wrenching
national experience, and included the assassination of Democratic
candidate Robert F. Kennedy, the assassination of civil rights
leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and subsequent race riots across the
nation, the violence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention,
and widespread demonstrations against the Vietnam War across
American university and college campuses. The election also
featured a strong third-party effort by former Alabama governor
George Wallace; although Wallace's campaign was frequently
accused of promoting racism, he would prove to be a formidable
candidate, and as of 2008 was the last third-party candidate to win
an entire state's electoral votes. In the end, Republican Richard M.
Nixon narrowly won the election over Democrat Hubert H.
Humphrey on a campaign promise to restore "law and order". The
election of 1968 was a realigning election that ended the
Democratic realignment started by Franklin Roosevelt in 1932.
Republican Candidates:
Clifford P. Case, U.S. senator from New Jersey
Hiram L. Fong, U.S. senator from Hawaii
Richard M. Nixon, former Vice President and 1960 presidential nominee
from California
Ronald W. Reagan, Governor of California
James A. Rhodes, Governor of Ohio and candidate for the 1964
Nelson A. Rockefeller, Governor of New York and candidate for the 1960
and 1964 nominations
George W. Romney, Governor of Michigan and candidate 1964
Harold E. Stassen, former Governor of Minnesota and candidate for the
1944, 1948, 1952 and 1964 nominations
John A. Volpe, Governor of Massachusetts
William C. Westmoreland, US Army General and Commander of US
Forces in South Vietnam from South Carolina
At the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida,
Reagan and Rockefeller planned to unite their forces in a stop-Nixon
movement, but the strategy fell apart when neither man agreed to
support the other for the nomination. Nixon won the nomination on the
first ballot. Nixon then chose Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew to be his
Vice-Presidential candidate, despite complaints from within the GOP that
Agnew was an unknown quantity, and that a better-known and more
popular candidate, such as Romney, should have been the VicePresidential nominee. It was also reported that Nixon's first choice for
running mate was his longtime friend and ally, Robert Finch, who was Lt.
Governor of California since 1967 and later his HEW Secretary, but Finch
declined the offer.
Total popular vote:
Ronald Reagan - 1,696,632 (37.93%)
Richard Nixon - 1,679,443 (37.54%)
James A. Rhodes - 614,492 (13.74%)
Nelson A. Rockefeller - 164,340 (3.67%)
Unpledged - 140,639 (3.14%)
Candidates :
Roger D. Branigin, Governor of Indiana
John G. Crommelin, retired US Navy Admiral from Alabama
Paul C. Fisher, businessman and candidate for the 1960 nomination from
Hubert H. Humphrey, Vice President of the United States and former
senator and candidate for the 1952 and 1960 nominations from Minnesota
Robert F. Kennedy, U.S. senator from New York and former Attorney
Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the United States from Texas
Thomas C. Lynch, Attorney General of California
Eugene J. McCarthy, U.S. senator from Minnesota
George S. McGovern, U.S. senator from South Dakota
Daniel K. Moore, Governor of North Carolina
George A. Smathers, U.S. senator and candidate for the 1960 nomination
from Florida
Stephen M. Young, U.S. senator from Ohio
Robert Kennedy's death altered the dynamics of the race, and threw the Democratic
Party into disarray. Although Humphrey appeared the presumptive favorite for the
nomination, thanks to his support from the traditional power blocs of the party, he was
an unpopular choice with many of the anti-war elements within the party, who
identified him with Johnson's controversial position on the Vietnam War. However,
Kennedy's delegates failed to unite behind a single candidate who could have prevented
Humphrey from getting the nomination. Some of Kennedy's support went to McCarthy,
but many of Kennedy's delegates, remembering their bitter primary battles with
McCarthy, refused to vote for him. Instead, these delegates rallied around the latestarting candidacy of Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, a Kennedy supporter
in the spring primaries, and who had presidential ambitions. However, by dividing the
antiwar votes at the Democratic Convention, it made it easier for Humphrey to gather
the delegates he needed to win the nomination.
Total popular vote:
Eugene McCarthy - 2,914,933 (38.73%)
Robert Kennedy - 2,305,148 (30.63%)
Stephen M. Young - 549,140 (7.30%)
Lyndon B. Johnson - 383,590 (5.10%)
Thomas C. Lynch - 380,286 (5.05%)
Roger D. Branigin - 238,700 (3.17%)
George Smathers - 236,242 (3.14%)
Hubert Humphrey - 166,463 (2.21%)
Richard Nixon – Republican
Hubert Humphrey – Democratic
George Wallace - American Independent
Served as a Navy lieutenant commander in the
Member of the United States House of
Representatives from California's 12th
congressional district
Former United States Senator from California
36th Vice President of the United States (under
Dwight Eisenhower)
38th vice president of the United States (196569) in the Democratic administration of
President Lyndon B. Johnson
presidential candidate of the Democratic Party
in 1968
A liberal leader in the United States Senate
(1949-65: 1971-78)
Built his political base on a Democrat-FarmerLabor
United States politician who was elected Governor
of Alabama as a Democrat four times (1962, 1970,
1974 and 1982)
ran for U.S. President four times, running as a
Democrat in 1964, 1972, and 1976, and as the
American Independent Party candidate in 1968
Best known for his pro-segregation attitudes and
as a symbol of state's rights during the American
desegregation period, which he modified after the
passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by arguing
that it was better that he be governor while the
schools were being desegregated than for someone
else to be in authority
After the Democratic Convention in late August Humphrey trailed Nixon by doubledigits in most polls, and his chances seemed hopeless. According to Time magazine, "The
old Democratic coalition was disintegrating, with untold numbers of blue-collar workers
responding to Wallace's blandishments, Negroes threatening to sit out the election,
liberals disaffected over the [Vietnam] War, the South lost. The war chest was almost
empty, and the party's machinery, neglected by Lyndon Johnson, creaked in disrepair."[1
Calling for "the politics of joy", and using the still-powerful labor unions as his base,
Humphrey fought back. He attacked Wallace as a racist bigot who appealed to the
darker impulses of Americans. Labor unions also undertook a major effort to win back
union members who were supporting Wallace, with substantial success. Polls which
showed Wallace winning almost one-half of union members in the summer of 1968
showed a sharp decline in his union support as election day approached. Humphrey
also pledged to continue the Great Society welfare programs initiated by President
While Humphrey ran a fighting, slashing campaign, Nixon's campaign was carefully
managed and controlled. Nixon often held "town hall" meetings in cities he visited,
where he answered questions from voters who had been carefully screened in advance
by his aides. Nixon also implied that he had a "solution" to the war in Vietnam, but was
vague in providing the details of his plan. As election day approached and Wallace's
support in the North and Midwest began to wane, Humphrey finally began to climb in
the polls.
In the end, the Vietnam War became the one remaining
problem Humphrey could not overcome. In October,
Humphrey - who still trailed Nixon in the polls - began to
publicly distance himself from the Johnson administration
on the Vietnam War, calling for a bombing halt. The key
turning point for Humphrey's campaign came when
President Johnson officially announced a bombing halt, and
even a possible peace deal, the weekend before the election.
Tipped off in advance by Henry Kissinger, and fearing this
'October surprise' might cost him the election, Nixon used
Anna Chennault as an intermediary to encourage South
Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu to stay away from
the peace talks in the belief that he could expect a better deal
under a Nixon Presidency; Thieu obliged. However, the
"Halloween Peace" gave Humphrey's campaign a badly
needed boost, and by election day the polls were reporting a
dead heat.
The election on November 5, 1968 proved to be
extremely close, and it was not until the following
morning that the television news networks were
able to call Nixon the winner. The key states
proved to be California, Ohio, and Illinois, all of
which Nixon won by three percentage points or
less. Nixon won the popular vote with a plurality
of 512,000 votes, or a victory margin of about one
percentage point. In the electoral college Nixon's
victory was larger, as he carried 32 states with 301
electoral votes, to Humphrey's 13 states and 191
electoral votes and Wallace's 5 states and 46
electoral votes.