Presidential Elections Essay

Pages: 5 (1522 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Government

Democrat

Republican

Adlai E. Stevenson

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Adlai E. Stevenson

Dwight D. Eisenhower

John F. Kennedy

Richard M. Nixon

Lyndon B. Johnson

Barry Goldwater

Hubert H. Humphrey

Richard M. Nixon

George McGovern

Richard M. Nixon

Jimmy Carter

Gerald Ford

Jimmy Carter

Ronald Reagan

Walter Mondale

Ronald Reagan

Michael Dukakis

George Bush

William Clinton

George Bush

William Clinton

Robert Dole

Albert Gore

George W. Bush

John Kerry

George W. Bush

Barack Obama

John McCain

The 1968 Election

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The 1968 election between Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota and Richard M. Nixon of California was one of the most significant in American History. The country was deeply divided over its involvement in the Vietnam War and the Great Society proposed by sitting President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, was in danger of falling apart (Burner). Johnson, who just four years earlier had been viewed as a great unifier following the tragic assassination of his predecessor John F. Kennedy was now viewed as an evil, tyrannical monster who had, through the force of his personality, embroiled the nation in an unwinnable war in Vietnam. The backdrop of the Vietnam War created a nationwide turmoil that was on the verge of reaching epidemic proportions. Johnson, who just two years earlier appeared poised to be re-elected, announced that he would not seek re-election and the stage was set for the Humphrey and Nixon to face off (White).

Essay on Presidential Elections Assignment

The 1968 election was characterized by two essential issues: the Vietnam War and civil unrest (Converse). Both issues were tearing away at the very framework of American society and the country was anxious to return to some form of normalcy. In the five years since the assassination of President Kennedy, the nation had endured the Civil Rights riots and Vietnam demonstrations and there was hope that the new President could temper the situation. Unfortunately, the election was complicated by the entrance of a third-party candidate, George W. Wallace, whose platform was based on promoting the racial segregation that had been the source of so much of the existing civil unrest. Wallace had no chance of actually winning the election but, unlike most third-party candidates, he did enjoy enough political clout so as to influence the results.

The Republican candidate in 1968 was Richard M. Nixon. Nixon had lost a narrow election to President Kennedy in 1960 and actually redrawn from politics for a brief time but, following a failed attempt to be elected Governor of California in 1962, had come rushing back to become his party's candidate for president in the '68 election. Nixon successfully rose to the top of his party's slate by adopting a more moderate approach than he had earlier in his career. As part of his 1968 campaign platform he promised a "peace with honor" in Vietnam and suggested that he had a secret formula for ending said War. Decrying the power and influence of the Vietnam protesters, Nixon appealed to those voters he described as the "Silent Majority." These were the true voters in American politics according to Nixon and not those who were protesting and rioting in the streets.

The Democratic nominee for president in 1968, Hubert H. Humphrey, began his campaign after having survived a bitter battle for the nomination. Following Johnson's surprise withdrawal, the Democrats engaged in a prolonged and acrimonious process of determining who would the Party's candidate. Humphrey, as Johnson's Vice-President had been seen as the Party's likely candidate but liberal Eugene McCarthy mounted a strong early challenge and, later, Robert Kennedy, seemed on the verge of wresting the nomination of Humphrey until he was slain by Jordanian nationalist, Sirhan. Before Humphrey could consider campaigning against Nixon he had to miraculously mend the fissures in his own Party.

The Democrats were damaged by the infighting that preceded the nomination and then were further damaged by the events that surrounded their convention in Chicago in the summer preceding the election (Robinson). The entire nation looked on as demonstrators outside the convention site and the Chicago police battled throughout the week of the convention. The Party left the convention severely damaged and their candidates, Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie, began the campaign having to defend a badly weakened presidential administration and a splintered Party. In an effort to heal party wounds, Humphrey agreed to appoint a special commission to reform the party rules governing delegate selection and presidential nominations. The result of the 1964 Civil Rights and the participation of young adults in the Vietnam demonstrations brought new members into the Party. These new member were critical of the old back room politics that had been practiced for years in both parties and the Commission was a compromise reached to calm convention tensions. The result of the Commission was the creation of the system or primaries and caucuses that are used today.

Georgia Governor George Wallace's third-party candidacy was a significant factor in the 1968 election (Kiewiet). Wallace's segregation policy was extremely popular among certain sectors of the electorate and his presence on the ballot injected uncertainty into the campaign. The Democrats feared that Wallace would attract votes from normally reliable Southern Democratic voters. Republicans feared that he would attract conservative voters that would otherwise be voting for Nixon. For most of the campaign Wallace did quite well in the polling leading into the election but his campaign stalled in the final weeks when his chosen running mate, Air Force General Curtis LeMay, commented that he would consider using nuclear weapons, if necessary, in Vietnam. Nevertheless, Wallace's presence on the ballot had a significant effect on the outcome of the election.

Nixon and the Republican Party entered the '68 campaign feeling fairly confident. Although they were concerned about the effect of Wallace's entry into the race, Nixon and his running mate, Spiro Agnew, began the campaign with a comfortable lead in the polls over their opponents. Pointing to the domestic unrest and violence and the Vietnam War, Nixon argued that it was time for a change. His campaign slogans became "peace with honor" and "law and order."

During the campaign, Nixon spoke relatively vaguely about his plans for ending the War in Vietnam. He repeatedly promised that the war would end and that it would be done with honor but he never revealed what his plans for peace were (Bundy). He mentioned having a secret plan but it remained secret through the entire campaign. Nixon's rationale for not divulging the terms of his supposed plan was that it might interfere with ongoing peace negotiations. The voters, however, were never advised until after the election that Nixon had actually been secretly involved in secret negotiations with the South Vietnamese Government to dissuade them from cooperating with the Johnson administration promising better terms once he was elected.

The Democratic Party and Hubert Humphrey staged a vigorous last ditch effort to capture the 1968 election. Arising from the ashes of the Chicago nominating convention, the election which looked like an easy Nixon victory suddenly became close in the final weeks. Aided by the Johnson administration's sudden agreement to unilaterally terminate all bombing of North Vietnam, the Wallace campaign being damaged by LeMay's suggestion of using nuclear weapons, and the sudden return of many of the Democrats who had been alienated by the circumstances surrounding the convention the gap between Nixon and Humphrey narrowed to the point that on the eve of the election the outcome was in doubt.

In the end, Humphrey was unable to prevail and Nixon won the election by a razor thin popular vote, 43.4% for Nixon and 42.7% for Humphrey. Wallace, the third-party candidate garnered an unprecedented 13.5% of the popular vote. The Electoral College vote was not nearly as close but Humphrey and the Democrats ran a surprisingly strong campaign.

The Republican victory marked not only a personal triumph… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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