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The United States presidential election of 1968 was the 46th quadrennial United Statesmarker presidential election. It was a wrenching national experience, conducted against a backdrop that included the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and subsequent race riots across the nation, the assassination of presidential candidate Robert F.marker Kennedymarker, widespread demonstrations against the Vietnam War across American university and college campuses, and violent confrontations between police and anti-war protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

On November 5, 1968, the Republican nominee, former Vice President Richard Nixon won the election over the Democratic nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey on a campaign promise to restore "law and order". Some consider the election of 1968 a realigning election that ended the Democratic alignment started by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 election. It was also the last election in which two opposing candidates were vice-presidents.

The election also featured a strong third party effort by former Alabama Governor George Wallace. Because Wallace's campaign promoted segregation, he proved to be a formidable candidate in the South; no third-party candidate has won an entire state's electoral votes since.

Historical background

In the election of 1964, after serving the 14 remaining months after President John F. Kennedy's assassinationmarker, Democrat Lyndon Johnson had won the largest popular vote landslide in US Presidential election history over Republican Barry Goldwater. During his term, Johnson had seen many political successes, including the passage of his sweeping Great Society domestic programs (also known as the "War on Poverty"), landmark civil rights legislation, and the continued exploration of space. At the same time, however, the country had experienced large-scale race riots in the streets of its larger cities, along with a generational revolt of young people and violent debates over foreign policy. The emergence of the hippie counterculture, the rise of New Left activism, and the emergence of the Black Power movement exacerbated social and cultural clashes between classes, generations and races. Every summer during Johnson's post-election administration, known thereafter as the "long, hot summers", major U.S. cities erupted in massive race riots that left hundreds dead or injured and destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars in property. Adding to the national tension, on April 4, 1968, civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennesseemarker sparking further mass rioting and chaos, including Washington, D.C.marker, where rioting came within just a few blocks of the White Housemarker.

A major factor in the precipitous decline of President Johnson's popularity was the Vietnam War, which he greatly escalated during his time in office. By late 1967 over 500,000 American soldiers were fighting in Vietnam and suffering thousands of casualties every month. Johnson was especially hurt when, despite his repeated assurances that the war was being "won", the American news media began to show just the opposite. The Tet Offensive of February 1968, in which Communist Vietcong forces launched major attacks on several large cities in South Vietnam, led to increased criticism from antiwar activists that the war was unwinnable. The Johnson Administration was particularly damaged during the Tet Offensive when Vietcong forces managed to infiltrate the U.S. Embassy in Saigonmarker, the South Vietnamese capital, before being killed by U.S. troops in a fierce struggle captured on national television. In response to the Tet Offensive, the U.S. military claimed that the war could only be won by adding several hundred thousand more soldiers to the American forces already in South Vietnam. In the months following Tet, Johnson's approval ratings fell below 35%, and the Secret Service refused to let the President make public appearances on the campuses of American colleges and universities, due to his extreme unpopularity among college students. The Secret Service also prevented Johnson from appearing at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, because of their fear that his appearance might cause riots.


Democratic Party nomination

Democratic candidates

Candidates gallery

Image:HubertHumphrey.png|Vice President Hubert Humphrey of MinnesotamarkerImage:Robert F Kennedy crop.jpg|Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New YorkmarkerImage:EugeneMcCarthy.jpg|Senator Eugene McCarthy of MinnesotaImage:GeorgeStanleyMcGovern.png|Senator George McGovern of South DakotamarkerImage:37 Lyndon Johnson 3x4.jpg|President Lyndon B. Johnson of Texasmarker

Enter Eugene McCarthy

Because Lyndon B. Johnson had been elected to the Presidency only once and had served less than two full years of the term before that, the 22nd Amendment did not disqualify him from running for another term; Johnson had served only 14 months following John F. Kennedy's assassinationmarker before being elected in 1964 to a full term. As a result, it was widely assumed when 1968 began that President Johnson would run for another term, and that he would have little trouble winning the Democratic nomination.

Despite the growing opposition to Johnson's policies in Vietnam, it appeared no prominent Democratic candidate was prepared to run against a sitting President of his own party. Even Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New Yorkmarker, an outspoken critic of Johnson's policies with a large base of support, initially refused to run against Johnson in the primaries. In time, only Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesotamarker proved willing to challenge Johnson openly. Running as an antiwar candidate in the New Hampshire primary, McCarthy hoped to pressure the Democrats into publicly opposing the Vietnam War. Since New Hampshire was the first presidential primary of 1968, McCarthy poured most of his limited resources into the state. He was boosted by thousands of young college students led by youth coordinator Sam Brown , who shaved their beards and cut their hair to be "Clean for Gene." These students organized get-out-the-vote drives, rang doorbells and distributed McCarthy buttons and leaflets, and worked hard in New Hampshire for McCarthy. On March 12, McCarthy won 42% of the primary vote to Johnson's 49%, an amazingly strong showing for such a challenger, and one which gave McCarthy's campaign legitimacy and momentum. The momentum ended, however, when Senator Kennedy announced his candidacy four days later, on March 16, as McCarthy supporters cried betrayal and vowed to defeat Kennedy. Murray Kempton, an influential liberal journalist and McCarthy supporter, bitterly criticized Kennedy for waiting to enter the primaries until McCarthy had shown that Johnson was vulnerable. Kempton wrote that Kennedy "was like a man who comes down from the hills after the battle and shoots the wounded." Thereafter McCarthy and Kennedy would engage in an increasingly bitter series of state primaries; although Kennedy won most of the primaries, he could never shake McCarthy and his devoted following of antiwar activists, which included many Hollywoodmarker celebrities such as Paul Newman, Gene Wilder, Barbra Streisand, and Burt Lancaster.

Johnson withdraws

On March 31, 1968, following the New Hampshire primary and Kennedy's entry into the election, the President addressed the nation in a televised speech in which he announced that he was suspending all bombing of North Vietnam in favor of peace talks. Johnson concluded his speech and startled the nation by announcing "With America's sons in the fields far away, with America's future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world's hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office--the Presidency of your country. Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President." Not discussed publicly at the time was Johnson's concern he might not survive another term—Johnson's health was poor, and he had suffered a serious heart attack in 1955 while serving in the U.S. Senate. Bleak political forecasts also contributed to Johnson's withdrawal: internal polling by Johnson's campaign in Wisconsinmarker, the next state to hold a primary election, showed the President trailing badly. With Johnson's withdrawal, the Democratic Party quickly split into four factions, each of which distrusted the other three.

  • The first faction comprised labor unions and big-city party bosses (led by Mayor Richard J. Daley). This group had traditionally controlled the Democratic Party since the days of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and they feared their loss of control over the party. After Johnson's withdrawal this group rallied to support Hubert H. Humphrey, Johnson's Vice President; it was also believed that President Johnson himself was covertly supporting Humphrey, despite his public claims of neutrality.
  • The second faction, which rallied behind Senator McCarthy, was composed of college students, intellectuals, and upper-middle-class whites who had been the early activists against the war in Vietnam; they perceived themselves as the future of the Democratic Party.
  • The third group was primarily composed of Catholics, African-Americans, Hispanics, and other racial and ethnic minorities as well as several antiwar groups; these groups rallied behind Senator Robert Kennedy.
  • The fourth group consisted of conservative white Southern Democrats, or "Dixiecrats". Some members of this group (probably older ones remembering the New Deal's positive impact upon rural areas) supported Vice President Humphrey, but many of them would rally behind George C. Wallace and the Alabama governor's third-party campaign in the general election.

Since the Vietnam War had become the major issue that was dividing the Democratic Party, and Johnson had come to symbolize the war for many liberal Democrats, Johnson believed that he could not win the nomination without a major struggle, and that he would probably lose the election in November to the Republicans. However, by withdrawing from the race he could avoid the stigma of defeat, and he could keep control of the party machinery by giving the nomination to Humphrey, who had been a loyal Vice President. As the year developed, it also became clear that Johnson believed he could secure his place in the history books by ending the war before the election in November, thus giving Humphrey the boost he would need to win.


Statewide contest by winner: Red = Kennedy, Orange = Smathers, Yellow = Young, Green = Johnson, Blue = McCarthy, Grey = No primary
After Johnson's withdrawal, Vice President Hubert Humphrey announced his candidacy. Kennedy was successful in four primaries and McCarthy five; however, in primaries where they campaigned directly against one another, Kennedy won three primaries and McCarthy one. Humphrey did not compete in the primaries, leaving that job to favorite sons who were his surrogates, notably Senator George A. Smathers from Floridamarker, Senator Stephen M. Young from Ohiomarker, and Governor Roger D. Branigin of Indianamarker. Instead, Humphrey concentrated on winning the delegates in non-primary states, where party leaders such as Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley controlled the delegate votes in their states. Kennedy defeated Branigin and McCarthy in the Indiana primary, and then defeated McCarthy in the Nebraska primary. However, McCarthy upset Kennedy in the Oregon primary; it was the first time that a Kennedy had lost a general election.

After Kennedy's defeat in Oregon, the California primary was seen as crucial to both Kennedy and McCarthy. McCarthy stumped the state's many colleges and universities, where he was treated as a hero for being the first presidential candidate to oppose the war. Kennedy campaigned in the ghettos and barrios of the state's larger cities, where he was mobbed by enthusiastic supporters. Kennedy and McCarthy engaged in a television debate a few days before the primary; it was generally considered a draw. On June 4 Kennedy narrowly defeated McCarthy in California, 46%–42%. However, McCarthy refused to withdraw from the race and made it clear that he would contest Kennedy in the upcoming New Yorkmarker primary, where McCarthy had much support from antiwar activists in New York City. The New York primary quickly became a moot point, however, for in the early morning of June 5, Kennedy was shotmarker shortly after midnight; he died twenty-six hours later. Kennedy had just given his victory speech in a crowded ballroom of the Ambassador Hotelmarker in Los Angeles; he and his aides then entered a kitchen pantry on their way to a banquet room to meet with reporters. In the narrow pantry Kennedy and five others were shot by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian militant who disliked Kennedy because of his support for the nation of Israelmarker. None of the five other gunshot victims suffered mortal wounds, but Kennedy's gunshot wound was in the head, and despite having surgery the wound proved to be fatal.

Political historians have debated to this day whether Kennedy could have won the Democratic nomination had he lived. Some historians, such as Theodore H. White and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., have argued that Kennedy's broad appeal and famed "charisma" would have convinced the party bosses at the Democratic Convention to give him the nomination. Jack Newfield, author of RFK: A Memoir, stated in a 1998 interview that on the night he was assassinated, "[Kennedy] had a phone conversation with Mayor Daley of Chicago, and Mayor Daley all but promised to throw the Illinois delegates to Bobby at the convention in August 1968. I think he said to me, and Pete Hamill, 'Daley is the ball game, and I think we have Daley.'" However, other writers such as Tom Wicker, who covered the Kennedy campaign for The New York Times, believe that Humphrey's large lead in delegate votes from non-primary states, combined with Senator McCarthy's refusal to quit the race, would have prevented Kennedy from ever winning a majority at the Democratic Convention, and that Humphrey would have been the Democratic nominee even if Kennedy had lived. The journalist Richard Reeves and historian Michael Beschloss have both written that Humphrey was the likely nominee, and RFK's own campaign manager, future Democratic National Committee chairman Larry O'Brien, wrote in his memoirs that Kennedy's chances of winning the nomination had been slim, even after his win in California.

At the moment of RFK's death, the delegate totals were:

Total popular vote:

Democratic Convention and antiwar protests

Robert Kennedy's death altered the dynamics of the race. Although Humphrey appeared the prohibitive 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 antiwar 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 late-starting candidacy of Senator George McGovern of South Dakotamarker, a Kennedy supporter in the spring primaries who had presidential ambitions himself. This dividing of the antiwar votes at the Democratic Convention made it easier for Humphrey to gather the delegates he needed to win the nomination.

When the 1968 Democratic National Convention opened in Chicagomarker, thousands of young activists from around the nation gathered in the city to protest the Vietnam War. In a clash which was covered on live television, Americans were shocked to see Chicago police brutally beating antiwar protesters in the streets of Chicago. While the protesters chanted "The whole world's watching," the police used clubs and tear gas to beat back the protesters, leaving many of them bloody and dazed. The tear gas even wafted into numerous hotel suites; in one of them Vice President Humphrey was watching the proceedings on television. However, the police claimed that their actions were justified because numerous police officers were being injured by bottles, rocks, and broken glass that were being thrown at them by the protestors; the protestors had also yelled verbal insults at the police, calling them "pigs" and other epithets. The antiwar riots divided the Democratic Party's base, as some sympathized with the police and condemned the protestors, while some liberal Democrats supported the protestors and were outraged by the actions of the Chicago police. Meanwhile, the convention itself was marred by the strong-arm tactics of Chicago's mayor Richard J. Daley (who was seen on television angrily cursing Senator Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticutmarker, who made a speech at the convention denouncing the excesses of the Chicago police in the riots). In the end, the nomination itself was anticlimactic, with Vice President Humphrey handily beating McCarthy and McGovern on the first ballot.

After the delegates nominated Humphrey, the convention then turned to selecting a vice president. The main candidates for this position were Senator Ted Kennedy, Senator Edmund Muskie, Senator Fred Harris, Governor Richard Hughes, Mayor Joseph Alioto, and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Cyrus Vance. Former Governor Terry Sanford and Ambassador Sargent Shriver had been considered earlier in the process along with Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Ted Kennedy was Humphrey's first choice but the senator turned him down. After narrowing it down to Senator Muskie and Senator Harris, Vice President Humphrey chose Muskie, a moderate and environmentalist from Mainemarker, for the nomination. The convention complied with the request and nominated Senator Edmund Muskie of Mainemarker as Humphrey's running mate.

However, the tragedy of the antiwar riots crippled Humphrey's campaign from the start, and it never fully recovered. Before 1968 the city of Chicago had been a frequent host for the political conventions of both parties; since 1968 only once has a national convention been held in the city (in 1996, the Democrats held their convention for Bill Clinton there). Many believe that this is due in part to the violence and chaos of the Democratic Convention that year.

Presidential tally Vice Presidential tally:
Hubert Humphrey 1759.25 Edmund S. Muskie 1942.5
Eugene McCarthy 601 Not Voting 604.25
George S. McGovern 146.5 Julian Bond 48.5
Channing Phillips 67.5 David Hoeh 4
Daniel K. Moore 17.5 Edward M. Kennedy 3.5
Edward M. Kennedy 12.75 Eugene McCarthy 3.0
Paul W. "Bear" Bryant 1.5 Others 16.25
James H. Gray 0.5
George Wallace 0.5
Source: Keating Holland, "All the Votes... Really," CNN


Hubert Humphrey

Robert F. Kennedy

Eugene McCarthy

George McGovern (during convention)

Republican Party nomination

Candidates gallery

Image:Nixon 30-0316a.jpg|Former Vice President Richard Nixon of CaliforniamarkerImage:Nelson_Rockefeller.jpg|Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New YorkmarkerImage:Official Portrait of President Reagan 1981.jpg|Governor Ronald Reagan of CaliforniamarkerImage:GeroRomney2.jpg|Governor George Romney of MichiganmarkerImage:Harold E. Stassen.jpg|Former Governor Harold Stassen of Minnesotamarker


Richard Nixon campaign rally
The front-runner for the Republican nomination was former Vice President Richard M. Nixon, who formally began campaigning in January 1968. To a great extent the story of the 1968 Republican primary campaign and nomination is the story of one Nixon opponent after another entering the race and then dropping out. Nixon was always clearly the front runner throughout the contest because of his superior organization, and he easily defeated the rest of the field.

Nixon's first challenger was Michiganmarker Governor George W. Romney. A Gallup poll in mid-1967 showed Nixon with 39%, followed by Romney with 25%. However, in a Freudian slip, Romney told a news reporter that he had been "brainwashed" by the military and the diplomatic corps into supporting the Vietnam War; the remark led to weeks of ridicule in the national news media. Since he had turned against American involvement in Vietnam, Romney planned to run as the antiwar Republican version of Eugene McCarthy. However, following his "brainwashing" comment Romney's support faded steadily, and with polls showing him far behind Nixon he withdrew from the race on February 28, 1968.

Nixon won a resounding victory in the important New Hampshire primary on March 12, winning 78% of the vote. Antiwar Republicans wrote in the name of New Yorkmarker Governor Nelson Rockefeller, the leader of the GOP's liberal wing, who received 11% of the vote and became Nixon's new challenger. Nixon led Rockefeller in the polls throughout the primary campaign. Rockefeller defeated Nixon in the Massachusettsmarker primary on April 30 but otherwise fared poorly in state primaries and conventions.

By early spring, California Governor Ronald Reagan, the leader of the GOP's conservative wing, had become Nixon's chief rival. In the Nebraskamarker primary on May 14, Nixon won with 70% of the vote to 21% for Reagan and 5% for Rockefeller. While this was a wide margin for Nixon, Reagan remained Nixon's leading challenger. Nixon won the next primary of importance, Oregonmarker, on May 15 with 65% of the vote and won all the following primaries except for California (June 4), where only Reagan appeared on the ballot. Reagan's victory in California gave him a plurality of the nationwide primary vote, but his poor showing in most other state primaries left him far behind Nixon in the actual delegate count.

Total popular vote:

Republican Convention

As the 1968 Republican National Convention opened in Miami Beach, Floridamarker, the Associated Press estimated that Nixon had 656 delegate votes - only 11 short of the number he needed to win the nomination. His only remaining obstacles were Reagan and Rockefeller, who were planning to unite their forces in a "stop-Nixon" movement. However, the strategy fell apart when neither Reagan nor Rockefeller agreed to support the other for the nomination. Nixon won the nomination on the first ballot. Nixon then chose Spiro T. Agnew, the Governor of Maryland, 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 George Romney, should have been the Vice-Presidential nominee. It was also reported that Nixon's first choice for running mate was his longtime friend and ally, Robert Finch, who was the Lieutenant Governor of California at the time, but Finch declined the offer. Finch would later serve as the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in Nixon's Administration.

Candidates for the Vice-Presidential nomination:

Convention tally
President (before switches) (after switches) Vice President
Richard M. Nixon 692 1238 Spiro T. Agnew 1119
Nelson Rockefeller 277 93 George Romney 186
Ronald Reagan 182 2 John V. Lindsay 10
Ohiomarker Governor James A. Rhodes 55 Massachusettsmarker Senator Edward Brooke 1
Michiganmarker Governor George Romney 50 James A. Rhodes 1
New Jerseymarker Senator Clifford Case 22 Not Voting 16
Kansasmarker Senator Frank Carlson 20
Arkansasmarker Governor Winthrop Rockefeller 18
Hawaiimarker Senator Hiram Fong 14
Harold Stassen 2
New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay 1

As of 2008, this was the last time two siblings (Nelson and Winthrop Rockefeller) ran against each other in a Presidential primary.

Other parties and candidates

The American Independent Party was formed by former Alabama Governor George Wallace, whose pro-segregation policies had been rejected by the mainstream of the Democratic Party. The impact of the Wallace campaign was substantial, winning the electoral votes of several states in the Deep South. Wallace was the most popular 1968 presidential candidate among young men. Wallace also proved to be popular among blue-collar workers in the North and Midwest, and he took many votes which might have gone to Humphrey. Although Wallace did not expect to win the election, his strategy was to prevent either major party candidate from winning a preliminary majority in the Electoral College, which would then give him bargaining power to determine the winner. Wallace's running mate was retired U.S. Air Force General Curtis LeMay. LeMay embarrassed Wallace's campaign in the fall by suggesting that nuclear weapons could be used in Vietnam.

Also on the ballot in two or more states were black activist Eldridge Cleaver for the Peace and Freedom Party, Henning Blomen for the Socialist Labor Party, Fred Halstead for the Socialist Workers Party, E. Harold Munn for the Prohibition Party, and Charlene Mitchell -- the first African-American woman to run for president -- for the Communist Party. Comedians Dick Gregory and Pat Paulsen were notable write-in candidates. A faux presidential candidate for 1968 was a pig named Pigasus, as a political statement by the Yippies, to illustrate their premise that "one pig's as good as any other."

General election

Campaign strategies

Nixon developed a "southern strategy," which was designed to appeal to conservative white southerners, who traditionally voted Democratic but were deeply angered by Johnson and Humphrey's support for the civil rights movement. Wallace, however, won over many of the voters Nixon targeted, effectively splitting the conservative vote. Indeed, Wallace deliberately targeted many states he had little chance of carrying himself, in the hope that by splitting the conservative vote with Nixon he would give those states to Humphrey and, by extension, boost his own chances of denying both opponents an Electoral College majority. The "southern strategy" would prove more effective in subsequent elections and would become a staple of Republican presidential campaigns. Nixon's campaign was also carefully managed and controlled. He often held "town hall" type meetings in cities he visited, where he answered questions from voters that had been screened in advance by his aides.

Since he was well behind Nixon in the polls as the campaign began, Humphrey opted for a slashing, fighting campaign style. He repeatedly - and unsuccessfully - challenged Nixon to a televised debate, and he often compared his campaign to the successful underdog effort of President Harry Truman, another Democrat who had trailed in the polls, in the 1948 presidential election. Humphrey predicted that he, like Truman, would surprise the experts and win an upset victory.

Campaign themes

Nixon campaigned on a theme to restore "law and order", which appealed to many voters angry with the hundreds of violent riots that had taken place across the country in the previous few years. Following the murder of Dr. King in April 1968 there was severe rioting in Detroitmarker and Washington, D.C.marker, and President Johnson had called out the U.S. Army to protect lives and property as smoke from burning buildings a few blocks away had drifted across the White House lawn. However, Vice-President Humphrey criticized the "law and order" issue, claiming that it was a subtle appeal to white racial prejudice. Nixon also mentioned during the campaign his opposition to desegregation busing.

During the campaign, Nixon also used as a theme his opposition to the policies of Chief Justice Earl Warren of the Supreme Courtmarker. Many conservatives were critical of Chief Justice Warren for using the Supreme Court to promote liberal policies in the fields of civil rights, civil liberties, and the separation of church and state. Nixon promised that if he were elected President, he would appoint justices who would take a less-active role in creating social policy. In another campaign promise, he pledged to end the draft. During the 1960s, Nixon had been impressed by a paper he had read by Professor Martin Anderson of Columbia University; Anderson had argued in the paper for an end to the draft and the creation of an all-volunteer army. Nixon also saw ending the draft as an effective way to undermine the anti-Vietnam war movement, since he believed affluent college-age youths would stop protesting the war once their own possibility of having to fight in it was gone.

Humphrey, meanwhile, promised to continue and expand the Great Society welfare programs started by President Johnson, and to continue the Johnson Administration's "War on Poverty". He also promised to continue the efforts of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and the Supreme Court, in promoting the expansion of civil rights and civil liberties for minority groups. However, Humphrey also felt constrained for most of his campaign in voicing any opposition to the Vietnam War policies of President Johnson, due to his fear that Johnson would reject any peace proposals he made and undermine his campaign. As a result, early in his campaign Humphrey often found himself the target of antiwar protestors, some of whom heckled and disrupted his campaign rallies.


After the Democratic Convention in late August, Humphrey trailed Nixon by double-digits 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." 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 the campaign progressed.

As election day approached and Wallace's support in the North and Midwest began to wane, Humphrey finally began to climb in the polls.

Humphrey's comeback and the Halloween Peace

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. The "Halloween Peace" gave Humphrey's campaign a badly needed boost. In addition, Senator Eugene McCarthy finally endorsed Humphrey in late October after previously refusing to do so, and by election day the polls were reporting a dead heat.

Paris Peace Accords

Tipped off in advance by Henry Kissinger of the bombing halt and the possible peace deal, and fearing this 'October surprise' might cost them the election, the Richard Nixon campaign “set out to sabotage the Paris peace negotiations on Vietnam. (…) [Via Anna Chennault] they privately assured the South Vietnamese military rulers that an incoming Republican regime would offer them a better deal than would a Democratic one. (…) The tactic "worked", in that the South Vietnamese junta withdrew from the talks on the eve of the election, thereby destroying the peace initiative on which the Democrats had based their campaign.” Before the elections President Johnson “suspected (…) Richard Nixon, of political sabotage that he called treason”. No investigations ensued, and no one was prosecuted.


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. Had Humphrey carried all three of these states, he would have won the election. Had Humphrey carried any two of them (or just California), George Wallace would have succeeded in his aim of preventing an electoral college majority for any candidate, and the decision would have been given to the House of Representatives. 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 five states and 46 electoral votes.

This was the last time until 1988 that Washingtonmarker voted Democratic. It was also the last time until 1992 that Connecticutmarker, Mainemarker and Michiganmarker voted Democratic in a general election.

Nixon said that Humphrey left a gracious message congratulating him, noting "I know exactly how he felt. I know how it feels to lose a close one."


[[Image:1968prescountymap2.PNG|thumb|right|400px|Election results by county.

Nixon's victory is often considered a realigning election in American politics. From 1933 to 1969, the Democratic Party was obviously the majority party. During that time period, the Democrats won seven presidential elections. The election of 1968 reversed the situation completely. From 1969 to 2009, the Republican Party was undoubtedly the majority party. During that time period, the Republicans also won seven presidential elections.

Many historians believe the reason for the Democratic Party's decline in strength was the bitter split within the party created by debates about civil rights, the Vietnam War and other "culture wars" of the 1960s. Notably, most white Southern Democrats (and especially their children) became Republicans in the next two decades, creating a fundamental shift of political power in the nation which favored the GOP. From 1968 to 2008 only two Democrats served as President of the United States, and they were both native Southerners - Jimmy Carter of Georgia and Bill Clinton of Arkansas. Not until 2008 did a Northern Democrat, Barack Obama, win a presidential election.

Another important result of the 1968 election was that it led to several reforms in how the Democratic Party chose its presidential nominees. In 1969, the McGovern–Fraser Commission adopted a set of rules for the states to follow in selecting convention delegates. These rules reduced the influence of party leaders on the nominating process and provided greater representation for minorities, women, and youth. The reforms led most states to adopt laws requiring primary elections, instead of party leaders, to choose delegates.

After 1968 the only way to win the party's presidential nomination was through the primary process; Humphrey turned out to be the last nominee of either major party to win his party's nomination without having directly competed in the primaries.


Source (Popular Vote):Source (Electoral Vote):

Close states

States where margin of victory was less than 5%

  1. Missouri, 1.13%
  2. Texas, 1.27%
  3. Maryland, 1.64%
  4. Washington, 2.11%
  5. New Jersey, 2.13%
  6. Ohio, 2.28%
  7. Alaska, 2.64%
  8. Illinois, 2.92%
  9. California, 3.08%
  10. Pennsylvania, 3.57%
  11. Wisconsin, 3.62%
  12. Tennessee, 3.83%

Notes: In Alabamamarker, Wallace was the official Democratic Party nominee, while Humphrey ran on the ticket of short-lived National Democratic Party of Alabama, loyal to him as an official Democratic Party nominee

In North Carolinamarker one Nixon Elector cast his ballot for George Wallace (President) and Curtis LeMay (Vice President).

National voter demographics

NBC sample precincts 1968 election
% Humphrey % Nixon % Wallace
High income urban 29 63 5
Middle income urban 43 44 13
Low income urban 69 19 12
Rural (all income) 33 46 21
African-American neighborhoods 94 5 1
Italian neighborhoods 51 39 10
Slavic neighborhoods 65 24 11
Jewish neighborhoods 81 17 2
Unionized neighborhoods 61 29 10
Source: Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report. “Group Analysis of the 1968 Presidential Vote” XXVI, No. 48 (November 1968), p. 3218.

Voter demographics in the South

NBC sample precincts 1968 election: South only
% Humphrey % Nixon % Wallace
Middle income urban neighborhoods 28 40 32
Low income urban neighborhoods 57 18 25
Rural (all income) 29 30 41
African-American neighborhoods 95 3 2
Hispanic neighborhoods 92 7 1
Source: Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report. “Group Analysis of the 1968 Presidential Vote”, XXVI, No. 48 (November 1968), p. 3218.

See also


  • White, Theodore H., The Making of the President 1968. Pocket Books, 1970.


  1. Johnson would die in January 1973, just two days after his second full term as President would have ended.
  2. Dallek (1998); Woods (2006); Gould (1993).
  3. Jack Newfield, interview with Terry Gross, Fresh Air from WHYY, National Public Radio, WHYY, Philadelphia, June 4, 1998. Except rebroadcast on June 4, 2008.
  4. White, pgs. 377–378; [1]
  6. New York Times 2/18/1968
  7. New York Times 2/29/1968
  8. "1968 Year In Review,"
  9. pp. 396–397.
  10. pp. 264–266.
  11. Time November 15, 1968
  12. Christopher Hitchens. “The Trial of Henry Kissinger“. Verso, 2002, p. 11-12. "’Henry [Kissinger] was the only person outside of the government we were authorised to discuss the negotiations with,’ says Richard Holbrooke. ‘We trusted him. It is not stretching the truth to say that the Nixon campaign had a secret source within the US negotiating team.’”.
  13. Robert "KC" Johnson. “Did Nixon Commit Treason in 1968? What The New LBJ Tapes Reveal”. History News Network, January 26, 2009. Transcript from audio recording of President Johnson: “We have found that our friend, the Republican nominee—our California friend [Richard Nixon] —has been playing on the outskirts with our enemies and our friends, both—our allies and the others. He’s been doing it through rather subterranean sources here.“
  14. Jules Witcover. “The Making of an Ink-Stained Wretch: Half a Century Pounding the Political Beat”. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005, p131. “I tracked down Anna Chennault (…) she insisted she had acted under instructions from the Nixon campaign in contacting the Saigon regime. ‘The only people who knew about the whole operation,’ she told me, ‘were Nixon, John Mitchell [Nixon’s campaign manager] and John Tower [senator from Texas and Nixon campaign figure], and they're all dead. But they knew what I was doing. Anyone who knows about these thing knows I was getting orders to do these thing. I couldn’t do anything without instructions.’”.
  15. Clark M. Clifford with Richard C. Holbrooke. Counsel to the President: A Memoir. Random House, 1991. p. 582. ”The activities of the Nixon team went far beyond the bounds of justifiable political combat. It constituted direct interference in the activities of the executive branch and the responsibilities of the Chief Executive, the only people with authority to negotiate on behalf of the nation. The activities of the Nixon campaign constituted a gross, even potentially illegal, interference in the security affairs of the nation by private individuals.”
  16. Robert "KC" Johnson. “Did Nixon Commit Treason in 1968? What The New LBJ Tapes Reveal”. History News Network, January 26, 2009. Transcript from audio recording of President Johnson: “Mrs. [Anna] Chennault is contacting their [South Vietnamese] ambassador from time to time—seems to be kind of the go-between”
  17. Robert "KC" Johnson. “Did Nixon Commit Treason in 1968? What The New LBJ Tapes Reveal”. History News Network, January 26, 2009. Transcript from audio recording of President Johnson: “He (Richard Nixon) has been saying to the allies that ‘you’re going to get sold out. Watch Yalta, and Potsdam, and two Berlins, and everything. And they’re [the Johnson administration] going to recognize the NLF. I [Nixon] don’t have to do that. You better not give away your liberty just a few hours before I can preserve it for you.’”
  18. Robert "KC" Johnson. “Did Nixon Commit Treason in 1968? What The New LBJ Tapes Reveal”. History News Network, January 26, 2009. Transcript from audio recording of President Johnson: “The next thing that we got our teeth in was one of his associates—a fellow named [John] Mitchell, who is running his campaign, who’s the real Sherman Adams (Eisenhower’s chief of staff) of the operation, in effect said to a businessman that ‘we’re going to handle this like we handled the Fortas matter, unquote. We’re going to frustrate the President by saying to the South Vietnamese, and the Koreans, and the Thailanders [sic], “Beware of Johnson.”’ ‘At the same time, we’re going to say to Hanoi, “I [Nixon] can make a better deal than he has, because I’m fresh and new, and I don’t have to demand as much as he does in the light of past positions.”’”
  20. Robert "KC" Johnson. “Did Nixon Commit Treason in 1968? What The New LBJ Tapes Reveal”. History News Network, January 26, 2009. Transcript from audio recording of President Johnson: “They’re going around and implying to some of the embassies that they might get a better deal out of somebody that was not involved in this—the “somebody not involved” is what they refer to as “their boss.”(…) “Their boss” is the code word for Mr. Richard Nixon.”
  21. Diem Bui with David Chanoff. In the Jaws of History. Indiana University Press, 1999, p. 244.“I began reviewing the cables I had written to Thieu (…). Among them, I found a cable from October 23 (…) in which I had said, ‘Many Republican friends have contacted me and encouraged us to stand firm. They were alarmed by press reports to the effect that you had already softened your position.’ In another cable, from October 27, I wrote, ‘I am regularly in touch with the Nixon entourage,’ by which I meant Anna Chennault, John Mitchell, and Senator Tower.”
  22. Seymour M. Hersh. “The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House”. Summit Books, 1983, p. 21. “A few days before the election, she wrote, Mitchell telephoned with an urgent message. ‘Anna,’ she quotes him as saying. ‘I'm speaking on behalf of Mr. Nixon. It's very important that our Vietnamese friends understand our Republican position and I hope you have made that clear to them.’”.
  23. Christopher Hitchens. “The Trial of Henry Kissinger“. Verso, 2002, p.6.
  24. Thomas Powers. “The Man who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms & the CIA”. Alfred A. Knopf, 1979, p.198. “during the week which ended Sunday, October 27 [1968], the National Security Agency intercepted a radio message from the South Vietnamese Embassy to Saigon explicitly urging Thieu to stand fast against an agreement until after the election. As soon as Johnson learned of the cable he ordered the FBI to place Madame Chennault under surveillance and to install a phone tap on the South Vietnamese Embassy”
  25. Mark Lisheron. “In tapes, LBJ accuses Nixon of treason”. Austin American-Statesman. December 05, 2008. “Johnson tells Sen. Everett Dirksen, the Republican minority leader, that it will be Nixon's responsibility if the South Vietnamese don't participate in the peace talks. ‘This is treason,’ LBJ says to Dirksen.”
  26. Robert "KC" Johnson. “Did Nixon Commit Treason in 1968? What The New LBJ Tapes Reveal”. History News Network, January 26, 2009. Transcript from audio recording of President Johnson: “Now, I can identify ‘em, because I know who’s doing this. I don’t want to identify it. I think it would shock America if a principal candidate was playing with a source like this on a matter this important. (…) I don’t want to do that.”
  27. Jules Witcover. “The Making of an Ink-Stained Wretch: Half a Century Pounding the Political Beat”. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005, p131.Johnson had turned over incriminating evidence about Chennault’s activities to Humphrey's for use in the final days of the campaign. The idea was that such an act of treason would sink Nixon and elect Humphrey. But Humphrey declined to use it, partly because he felt he could not reveal the sources of the classified material (…) Later, in his memoir, Humphrey recounted a memo of his own at the time: "I wonder if I should have blown the whistle on Anna Chennault and Nixon. I wish [his italics] I could have been sure. Damn Thieu. Dragging his feet this past weekend hurt us. I wonder if that call did it. lf Nixon knew.”.
  28. Mark Lisheron. “In tapes, LBJ accuses Nixon of treason”. Austin American-Statesman. December 05, 2008. “Confronting Nixon by telephone on Nov. 3, Johnson outlines what had been alleged and how important it was to the conduct of the war for Nixon's people not to meddle. ‘My God,’ Nixon says to Johnson, ‘I would never do anything to encourage the South Vietnamese not to come to that conference table.’”
  29. "1968 Year In Review,"

Further reading

  • Brown, Stuart Gerry. The Presidency on Trial: Robert Kennedy's 1968 Campaign and Afterwards. U. Press of Hawaii, 1972. 155 pp.
  • Burner, David and West, Thomas R. The Torch Is Passed: The Kennedy Brothers and American Liberalism. (1984). 307 pp.
  • Gallup, George H., ed. The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion, 1935-1971. 3 vols. Random House, 1972. press releases
  • Kimball, Warren F. "The Election of 1968." Diplomatic History 2004 28(4): 513–528. ISSN 0145-2096 Fulltext online in SwetsWise, Ingenta and Ebsco. Comments by others at pp. 563–576; reply, p. 577.
  • Jamieson, Patrick E. "Seeing the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidency through the March 31, 1968 Withdrawal Speech." Presidential Studies Quarterly Vol 29#1 1999 pp. 134+
  • LaFerber, Walter. The Deadly Bet: LBJ, Vietnam, and the 1968 Election (2005) short survey
  • Eugene McCarthy, The Year of the People (1969), memoir
  • Jeff Shesol, Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud that Defined a Decade (1997)
  • Woods, Randall. LBJ: Architect of American Ambition (2006)

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