Democratic Party presidential primaries, 1968

Democratic Party presidential primaries, 1968
United States
March 12 to June 11, 1968

Nominee Eugene McCarthy Robert Kennedy Stephen M. Young
Home state Minnesota New York Ohio
Contests won 6 4 1
Popular vote 2,914,933 2,305,148 549,140
Percentage 38.7% 30.6% 7.3%

Nominee Lyndon B. Johnson George Smathers
Home state Texas Florida
Contests won 1 1
Popular vote 383,590 236,242
Percentage 5.1% 3.1%

Gold denotes a state won by Lyndon B. Johnson. Purple denotes a state won by Robert Kennedy Green denotes a state won by Eugene McCarthy. Blue denotes a state won by George Smathers. Orange denotes a state won by Stephen M. Young. Grey denotes a state that did not hold a primary.

Previous Democratic nominee

Lyndon B. Johnson

Democratic nominee

Hubert Humphrey

The 1968 Democratic presidential primaries were the selection process by which voters of the Democratic Party chose its nominee for President of the United States in the 1968 U.S. presidential election. Incumbent Vice President Hubert Humphrey was selected as the nominee through a series of primary elections and caucuses culminating in the 1968 Democratic National Convention held from August 26 to August 29, 1968, in Chicago, Illinois.

Primary race

Though President Lyndon B. Johnson had served during two presidential terms, the 22nd Amendment did not disqualify Johnson from running for another term, because he had only served 14 months following John F. Kennedy's assassination before being sworn in for his 'full' term in January 1965. As a result, it was widely assumed when 1968 began that President Johnson would be a Democratic nominee, and that he would have little trouble in winning the Democratic nomination.

Despite the growing opposition to Johnson's policies in Vietnam in both Congress and in the public, no prominent Democratic politician was prepared to run against a sitting President of his own party. Anti-war activists of the new "Dump Johnson movement" initially approached Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York, an outspoken critic of Johnson's policies with a large base of support, for a candidacy, but he declined to run. They then appealed to Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, who was willing to openly challenge Johnson. Running as an anti-war candidate in the New Hampshire primary, McCarthy hoped to pressure the Democrats into publicly opposing the Vietnam War. Trailing badly in national polls and with little chance to influence delegate selection absent primary wins, McCarthy decided to pour most of his resources into New Hampshire, the first state to hold a primary election. He was boosted by thousands of young college students who volunteered throughout the state, who shaved their beards and cut their hair to be "Clean for Gene."

On March 12, McCarthy won 42% of the primary vote to Johnson's 49%, an extremely strong showing for such a challenger, and one which gave McCarthy's campaign legitimacy and momentum. In a surprise move on March 16, Robert F. Kennedy renounced his earlier support for Johnson and proclaimed his candidacy. McCarthy and his supporters viewed this as opportunism, creating a lasting enmity between the campaigns.

Johnson withdraws

Johnson was now faced with two strong primary challenges. In declining health and facing bleak political forecasts in the upcoming primaries,[1] Johnson believed that he could not win the nomination without a major political and personal struggle.

On March 31, 1968, the President startled the nation by ending a televised address regarding the War by announcing he would not seek re-election. By withdrawing from the race, he could avoid the stigma of defeat and could keep control of the party machinery to support Hubert Humphrey, his 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.[2]

With Johnson's withdrawal, the New Deal Coalition effectively dissolved into support for different candidates:

Contest for the Democratic nomination

After Johnson's withdrawal, Vice President Hubert Humphrey announced his candidacy on April 27.[3] Kennedy was successful in four state primaries (Indiana, Nebraska, South Dakota, and California) and McCarthy won six (Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Oregon, New Jersey, and Illinois); however, in primaries where they campaigned directly against one another, Kennedy won three primaries (Indiana, Nebraska, and California) and McCarthy won one (Oregon).[4] Humphrey did not compete in the primaries, leaving favorite sons to collect favorable surrogates, notably Senator George A. Smathers from Florida, Senator Stephen M. Young from Ohio, and Governor Roger D. Branigin of Indiana.

Humphrey's campaign concentrated on winning the delegates in non-primary states, where party leaders controlled the delegate votes. 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.

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 election; it was generally considered a draw. On June 4, Kennedy defeated McCarthy in California, 46% to 42%, and also won the South Dakota primary held the same day. McCarthy refused to withdraw from the presidential race and made it clear that he would contest Kennedy in the upcoming New York primary, where McCarthy had much support from antiwar activists in New York City.

After giving his victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, Kennedy was shot in the kitchen service pantry in the early morning of June 5. A Palestinian immigrant named Sirhan Sirhan was arrested. Kennedy died twenty-six hours later.

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


Only 14 states held primaries at this time (California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and West Virginia) in addition to Washington, D.C.[5]

Results by winners:[6]

Statewide results by winner

Eugene McCarthy Robert F. Kennedy Stephen M. Young Lyndon Johnson George Smathers Unpledged
March 12 New Hampshire 42% 1% 0% 50% 0% 0%
April 2 Wisconsin 56% 6% 0% 35% 0% 0%
April 23 Pennsylvania 71% 11% 0% 4% 0% 0%
April 30 Massachusetts 49% 28% 0% 3% 0% 0%
May 5 Washington, D.C. 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 100%
May 7 Indiana 27% 42% 0% 0% 0% 0%
May 7 Ohio 0% 0% 100% 0% 0% 0%
May 14 Nebraska 31% 52% 0% 6% 0% 0%
May 14 West Virginia 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 100%
May 28 Florida 29% 0% 0% 0% 46% 0%
May 28 Oregon 44% 38% 0% 12% 0% 0%
June 4 California 42% 46% 0% 0% 0% 0%
June 4 New Jersey 36% 31% 0% 0% 0% 0%
June 4 South Dakota 20% 50% 0% 30% 0% 0%
June 11 Illinois 39% 0% 0% 1% 0% 0%

Total popular vote:[7]

Johnson/Humphrey surrogates:

minor candidates and write-ins:

Democratic Convention and antiwar protests

Robert Kennedy's death threw the Democratic Party into disarray. The loss of his campaign, which had relied on his popularity and charisma convincing non-primary delegates to support him at the convention, meant that the anti-war movement was effectively kaput, and that Humphrey would be the prohibitive favorite for the nomination. Some of Kennedy's support went to McCarthy, but many of Kennedy's delegates, remembering their bitter primary battles with McCarthy, rallied around the late-starting candidacy of Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, a Kennedy supporter in the spring primaries. 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.

When the 1968 Democratic National Convention opened in Chicago, thousands of young antiwar 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 officers brutally beating anti-war protesters. While the protesters chanted "the whole world is 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. 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 Connecticut senator Abraham Ribicoff, 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. The convention then chose Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine as Humphrey's running mate. However, the tragedy of the antiwar riots crippled the Humphrey campaign from the start, and it never fully recovered. (White, pgs. 377-378;[8])

The Final Ballot
Presidential tally Vice Presidential tally:
Hubert Humphrey 1759.25 Edmund S. Muskie 1942.5
Eugene McCarthy601 Not Voting 604.25
George S. McGovern 146.5 Julian Bond[9] 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 E. "Bear" Bryant 1.5 Others 16.25
James H. Gray 0.5
George Wallace 0.5

Source: Keating Holland, "All the Votes... Really," CNN[10]


Hubert Humphrey

Robert Kennedy

Eugene McCarthy

George McGovern (during convention)

See also


  1. Cook, Rhodes (2000). United States Presidential Primary Elections 1968–1996: A Handbook of Election Statistics. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press. p. 797. ISBN 9781568024516.
  2. Dallek (1998); Woods (2006); Gould (1993).
  3. Solberg, Carl (1984). Hubert Humphrey: A Biography. New York: W.W. Norton. p. 332. ISBN 9780393018066.
  4. Cook, p. 1213.
  5. Cook, p. 6.
  6. "Primaries, caucuses and conventions: Classic races for the presidential nomination". Archived from the original on 2009-10-27. Retrieved 2010-06-17.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "US President - D Primaries Race - Mar 12, 1968". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2010-06-17.
  8. 1 2 3 "US President - D Convention Race - Aug 26, 1968". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2010-06-17.
  9. not eligible to serve as Vice President, because he was only 28-years old at the time
  10. "AllPolitics - 1996 GOP NRC - All The Votes...Really". Retrieved 2010-06-17.
  11. "SD US President - D Primary Race - Jun 04, 1968". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2010-06-17.
  12. "Candidate - Harold Everett Hughes". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2010-06-17.
  13. 1 2 "CA US President - D Primary Race - Jun 04, 1968". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2010-06-17.
  14. The Rise of a Prairie Statesman: The Life and Times of George McGovern, p. 405
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