President Richard M. Nixon: 1968 Presidential Campaign and Election
About the 1968 presidential campaign and election against Humphrey ran by President Richard M. Nixon.
Election: Nixon started off with a huge lead over his Democratic opponent, Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. The Democrats were deeply divided over the Vietnam War. Humphrey was closely associated with the unpopular Johnson Administration, and his nomination had been tarnished by the bloody televised riots at the Democratic convention in Chicago. Barring some disaster, Nixon was a sure winner, and the Republican leaders decided that the best way to avoid that disaster was to keep Nixon away from the people.
One "secret weapon" in the Republican arsenal was former President Eisenhower's undiminished popularity. Throughout the campaign, the general lay close to death at Walter Reed hospital. Remembering his days on the Whittier College football team (or perhaps his viewing of Knute Rockne, All American, starring Ronald Reagan as "the Gipper"), Nixon told the Republicans at the convention: "Let's win this one for Ike!" As if this weren't enough, Murray Chotiner insisted that cameras be brought into Ike's hospital room in order to film an endorsement of Nixon. The resulting footage horrified even Nixon's own staff. Ike, dressed in pajamas, was obviously a dying man, and he lay there with a microphone hanging limply from his neck. "No," said Nixon media wizard Harry Treleaven, "that's one thing I'm not going to do. I'm not going to make a commercial out of that." "If you can't get 5, how about at least one minute?" pleaded Chotiner. In the end, the Nixon staff found a clever compromise as Nixon's son-in-law-to-be, David Eisenhower, read his grandfather's endorsement to the cameras.
Despite his best efforts to avoid the issue for the duration of the campaign, Nixon was forced to elaborate on his previous platitudes concerning the Vietnam War. He told the nation that he had a "secret plan" to end the war but said that he could not divulge its contents for fear of compromising President Johnson's negotiating position. The transparent hypocrisy of this position--combined with Agnew's controversial use of phrases such as "Fat Jap," "Polack," and "If you've seen one slum you've seen them all"--began to create serious doubts about the Nixon-Agnew ticket. Meanwhile, millions of Peace Democrats, faced with the real possibility that Nixon might actually become President of the U.S., began streaming reluctantly back to the Humphrey column as the election went down to the wire.
November 5, 1968....
In the end, Richard Nixon, despite the most expensive campaign in U.S. history, came within a hairbreadth of blowing his "sure--thing" election. He actually polled 2 1/2 million fewer votes than he had drawn in his losing effort in 1960. His overall percentage of the popular vote--43.4--was lower than that of any winning candidate since 1912. His victory was made possible only by the presence in the race of Alabama's George Wallace-the "American Independent" candidate, whose law-and-order campaign drew nearly 10 million votes--or 13.5% of the total. Wallace won enough normally Democratic, blue-collar votes in key industrial States like Illinois and Ohio to wing those States to Nixon--and with them the election. Nixon won 301 electoral votes to Humphrey's 191. But the difference in the popular vote was only 510,000--or 0.7%. Wallace carried the States of the deepest South-Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi--for a total of 46 electoral votes. The morning after the election, when Nixon appeared before his supporters and the press to claim victory, he received a unique gift from his daughter Julie: a needlepoint replica of the presidential seal.
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