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U.S. presidential election, 1968

Presidential CandidateElectoral Vote Popular Vote Pct Party Running Mate
(Electoral Votes)
Richard M. Nixon of New York (W) 301 31,710,470 43.2% Republican Spiro Agnew of Maryland (301)
Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota 191 30,898,055 42.6% Democrat Edmund Muskie of Maine (191)
George Wallace of Alabama 46 9,906,473 12.9% American Independent Curtis E. LeMay of Ohio (46)
Other 0 972,139 1.3%
Total 538 73,026,831 100.0%
Other elections: 1956, 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980
Source: U.S. Office of the Federal Register

The 1968 election was a very tumultuous process, marked by the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, as well as the ongoing strife caused by the Vietnam War. In the end, Richard M. Nixon would win the election on a campaign of "law and order".

Table of contents
1 Democratic Primary
2 Republican Primary
3 Third parties
4 The election

Democratic Primary

Most Democratic candidates were hesitant to officially enter the race in 1968, given that Democrat Lyndon Johnson was the incumbent president, and had won the 1964 election in a landslide. However, the Vietnam War had become an enormous burden for the Johnson administration, both as a political liability and on the energies of Johnson himself. Senator Eugene McCarthy saw this as an opening, and ran for the Democratic nomination as an anti-war candidate, and achieved early success. On March 31, 1968, Johnson announced he would not seek re-election.

Johnson's exit from the race opened the door for a large field of Democratic contenders. Shortly after Johnson's announcement, Robert F. Kennedy and Hubert H. Humphrey announced their candidacies.

The race for the presidency was very close, and it appeared that Robert F. Kennedy would win the nomination. He had just won the crucial California primary when he was shot shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968 by Sirhan Sirhan. He died the next day, on June 6.

Kennedy's death altered the dynamics of the race, and threw the Democratic party into disarray. The Democrats went to the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago unsure of who their nominee would be. Protesters clashed with police on the streets of Chicago while the convention went on inside. In the end, the party would select Vice President Humphrey to be the nominee, even though he had not run in a single primary election during the campaign.

Republican Primary

The Republican Primary was relatively uneventful. Richard M. Nixon had made a comeback, and had devised a "southern strategy", which was designed to appeal to the southern voters, who traditionally voted Democratic but who were becoming disillusioned with the changing politics of the Democratic party. He handily won the Republican nomination, beating Nelson Rockefeller and Ronald Reagan.

Third parties

The American Independent Party was formed by George Wallace, whose pro-segregation policies had been rejected by the mainstream of the Democratic party. The impact of the Wallace campaign was substantial, gaining a substantial number of electoral votes from Southern states for a third party effort. Although Wallace did not expect to win the election, his strategy was that he might be able to prevent either major party candidate from winning a preliminary majority in the U.S. Electoral College, which would then give him bargaining power to determine the outcome.

The election

The election was held on November 5, 1968 and in the end, the race was very close. During the campaign, Nixon claimed to have a "secret plan" to end the war. In the final days of the election, much was riding on the Paris Peace Talks with the North Vietnamese, and the success or failure of peace talks. The war became the central issue of the campaign, with Humphrey hounded by antiwar protesters whenever he made public appearances. A cease-fire was declared shortly before the election, possibly giving a nudge to Humphrey. However, Nixon won what was a very close election.

See also: President of the United States, U.S. presidential election, 1968, History of the United States (1964-1980)