|Richard Nixon for President|
|Campaign||U.S. presidential election, 1968|
U.S. House of Representatives 1947–1950
U.S. Senator 1950–1953
Vice President 1953–1961
The Richard Nixon presidential campaign of 1968 began when the former Vice President Richard Milhous Nixon of New York launched his successful run for President of the United States following a year of preparation and five years of political reorganization after defeats in the 1960 Presidential election, and the 1962 California Gubernatorial race.
En route to the Republican Party nomination, Nixon faced challenges from Michigan Governor George Romney, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, California Governor Ronald Reagan, and Illinois Senator Charles Percy. Nixon won most of the state primaries, and gained enough delegate strength to secure the nomination on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention. He named Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew as his running mate.
In the general election, Nixon emphasized "law and order" and tried to position himself as the champion of the so-called "silent majority". He attempted to de-emphasize the controversial Vietnam War by claiming that he had a "secret plan" to end the war. He ran well ahead of his opponent, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, in the polls, but slipped in the polls after refusing to take part in presidential debates, and following an announcement from the Democratic president Lyndon B. Johnson that a bombing halt had been achieved in Vietnam.
Nixon served as a member of the United States Congress representing the 12th District of California from 1947 until his election to the Senate in 1950. During this time, he gained a reputation as an ardent anti-Communist. Selected by Republican Party Presidential nominee Dwight D. Eisenhower as his running mate in the 1952 presidential election, Nixon was elected and served as Vice President at the height of the Cold War. During his tenure, he traveled the world on "goodwill tours", promoting pro-American policies. He was re-elected to the position in 1956. At the end of Eisenhower's second term in 1960, the Republican Party nominated Nixon as their presidential candidate. He lost in a close election to John F. Kennedy, which many credited in part to his uncomfortable disposition during the first televised debate. After a defeat in the 1962 California Gubernatorial race, Nixon was labeled a "loser" by the media. This defeat was widely believed to be the end of his career; in an impromptu concession speech the morning after the election, Nixon famously blamed the media for favoring his opponent, saying, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference." In September, the New York Post published an article claiming that campaign donors were buying influence with Nixon by providing him with a secret cash fund for his personal expenses. He moved to New York, joined the Mudge Rose Guthrie Alexander & Ferdon law firm, regrouped, considered, but decided against a run for president in 1964, and later began to plan for a 1968 presidential campaign.
On January 7, 1967, Nixon held a secret meeting with his closest advisers to discuss a potential campaign and brainstorm strategies to obtain enough delegates to win the Republican presidential nomination. He asked the attendees to not discuss the meeting with anyone, but to subtly spread word that he would run for president. The next month, during an interview with the Saturday Evening Post, Nixon flatly denied that he was running for president. Polls from this period suggested that he was the front-runner for the Republican nomination. A February Gallup poll showed Nixon leading Michigan Governor George Romney, his closest rival, 52% to 40%. At this time, he quietly began efforts to organize in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Indiana, Nebraska and Oregon in order to secure victories in those state's primaries for the following year. In March, he gained the support of the 1964 Republican presidential nominee, Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. Although the Senator remarked that his party continued to believe that Nixon "can't be elected" due to his "loser" label. A "Nixon for President Committee" formed that month, and headquarters for the organization opened in Washington D.C. in late May.
During the spring and summer, Nixon went on international voyages to Eastern Europe and Latin America to tout his foreign policy credentials. He returned in August and conducted meetings with his advisors to formulate a solid campaign strategy; two days later his campaign manager, Gaylord Parkinson, left his position to care for his ailing wife. Commentators opined that the vacancy built "an element of instability" for the campaign. The position was soon temporarily filled by former Governor Henry Bellmon of Oklahoma. The next week, five staff members were fired after private investigators determined that information had been leaked to the campaigns of potential primary rivals Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York and Governor Ronald Reagan of California. The news did not stall the progression of the campaign, and soon Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie & Alexander member Leonard Garment assembled an advertising team that included CBS Television president Frank Shakespeare.
By mid-September 1967, the Nixon campaign had organized headquarters in four states deemed critical to the Republican primaries. Nixon hoped the moves would increase his delegate strength and demonstrate his "ability to win." He notified the media that his decision on whether to run for president would be officially announced anytime between early December and February. Meanwhile, Nixon and his staff discussed plans for the handling of the war in Vietnam. They advised him to soften his stance on the war and encouraged him to shift his focus from foreign affairs to domestic policy in order to avoid the divisive war and peace issue. Observers noted that this move potentially hurt Nixon by straying from his image "as a foreign policy expert."
In October, political experts predicted that Nixon would gain delegates in the important states of New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Nebraska during the primary season, scheduled to begin in March 1968. They noted that in the other critical state of Oregon, Ronald Reagan would have an advantage due to the proximity of his home state. Like Nixon, rival George Romney began to organize in these states. Romney officially announced his candidacy in November, prompting Nixon to step up his efforts. He spent most of this period on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. Observers following Nixon noted that during this period, he seemed more relaxed and easygoing than in his past political career. One commentator examined that he was not "the drawn, tired figure who debated Jack Kennedy or the angry politician who conceded his California [Gubernatorial] defeat with such ill grace." He also began making appearances at fundraisers in his adopted home state of New York, helping to raise $300,000 for the re-election campaign of Senator Jacob K. Javits. At the end of December, Time Magazine labeled Nixon as the "man to beat."
Nixon entered 1968 as the front-runner for the Republican nomination. However, polls suggested that in a head to head match up with incumbent President Lyndon Johnson, Nixon trailed in a 50% to 41% contest. Later in the month, Nixon embarked on a tour of Texas. During a stop, he lampooned President Johnson's State of the Union address, asking, "Can this nation afford to have four more years of Lyndon Johnson's policies that have failed at home and abroad?" At this time, reports suggested that Nixon would formally announce his bid in February.
On February 1 in New Hampshire, Nixon announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, commenting that problems "beyond politics" needed to be addressed. Immediately following his entrance, the advertising team prepared for the ad campaign. They watched video of Nixon and determined that he was at his best when speaking spontaneously. The team organized a question and answer session with seven members of the New Hampshire Republican Party, and taped Nixon's responses to be edited and used in advertisements. He campaigned in the state, even though polls suggested that he would easily win its primary. As a result, he began to also campaign in Wisconsin where the second primary would be held. During a stop, he briefly discussed Vietnam while not going into detail, stating that the United States "must prevent [such] confrontations"  but that the nation must also "help people in the free world fight against aggression, but not do their fighting for them." He used the dictatorships in Latin America as an example, stating: "I am talking not about marching feet but helping hands." As military operations increased in Vietnam in mid-February, Nixon's standing against President Johnson improved. A Harris poll showed that the candidate trailed the president 43% to 48%. Near the end of the month, Nixon's announced opponent George Romney exited the race, mostly due to comments he made about being "brainwashed" during a visit to Vietnam. The move left Nixon nearly unopposed for the upcoming primaries, and narrowed his presidential nomination opponents to Nelson Rockefeller and Ronald Reagan, neither of whom had announced their candidacy.
Because of Romney's exit, Nixon declared in early March that he would "greatly expand [his] efforts in the non-primary states." Time Magazine observed that Nixon could now focus his political attacks solely on President Johnson. However, the void also caused problems for Nixon. Time argued that the prospect of soundly defeating second tier candidates such as former Governor of Minnesota Harold Stassen in the primaries, would not "electrify the voters." The Nixon campaign countered this claim stating that Romney's withdrawal was a "TKO" at the hands of Nixon. Meanwhile, Rockefeller began to be viewed more as a candidate, articulating that he did not want to split the party but was "willing to serve...if called." As talks of other candidates persisted, Nixon continued to campaign and discussed the issues. He made a pledge to end the war in Vietnam, but would not go into detail, drawing some criticism. Nixon easily won the New Hampshire primary on March 12, pulling in 80% of the vote with a write-in campaign for Rockefeller receiving 11%. At the end of March, Rockefeller announced that he would not campaign for the presidency, but would be open to being drafted. Nixon doubted a draft stating that it would only be likely if "I make some rather serious mistake." Reports suggested that the decision caused "Nixon's political stock [to] skyrocket." Gallup polls at this time revealed that Nixon led President Johnson 41% to 39% in a three way race with American Independent Party candidate and former Governor George Wallace of Alabama.
As the Wisconsin Primary loomed in early April, Nixon's only obstacle seemed to be preventing his supporters from voting in the Democratic primary for Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota as a protest to President Johnson. However, Johnson withdrew from the race before the primary. Ronald Reagan's name was on the ballot in Wisconsin but he did not campaign in the state and was still not a declared candidate. Nixon won the primary with 80% followed by Reagan with 11% and Stassen with 6%. With Johnson removed from the race, Nixon fell behind Democratic candidates Eugene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey and Robert Kennedy in head to head match-ups. At the end of April, Nixon called for a moratorium on criticism of the Johnson policy in Vietnam as negotiations were underway: "The one man who can do anything about peace is Lyndon Johnson, and I'm not going to do anything to undercut him". However, the Democratic candidates for president remained fair game for criticism. He argued that "A divided Democratic Party cannot unite a divided country; a united Republican Party can." He also began to discuss economics more frequently, announcing that he planned to cut spending while criticizing the Democratic policy of raising taxes. During a question and answer session with the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Nixon spoke extemporaneously and received numerous interruptions of applause. The largest came when he addressed the issue of crime, proclaiming that "there cannot be order in a free society without progress, and there cannot be progress without order."
On the last day of April, Rockefeller announced that he would campaign for the presidency despite his previous statement that he would not run. Immediately following his entrance, he defeated Nixon in the Massachusetts primary 30% to 26%. New Harris polls found that Rockefeller fared better against Democratic candidates than Nixon. But the outlook started to look better for Nixon after he won the Indiana primary over Rockefeller. Off the victory, Nixon campaigned in Nebraska where he criticized the three leading Democratic candidates as "three peas in a pod, prisoners of the policies of the past." He then proposed a plan to tackle crime that included wiretapping, legislation to counter previous Supreme Court decisions, the forming of a congressional committee targeting crime and reforms to the criminal justice system. He did not connect crime to racial rioting, drawing praise from Civil Rights leaders. Nixon won the primary in Nebraska, defeating the non-candidate Reagan 71% to 22%. At the next primary, in Oregon, Reagan seemed more willing to compete with Nixon, and Rockefeller sat out. But Nixon won with 72%, fifty points ahead of Reagan.
In early June, Nixon continued to be regarded as the favorite to win the nomination, but observers noted that he had not yet "locked up" the nomination. He still faced challenges from Nelson Rockefeller and Ronald Reagan, and was not on the ballot in California, where Reagan won a large slate of delegates. Behind the scenes, Nixon workers lobbied for delegates from "favorite son" candidates. As a result, Nixon received the backing of Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee, and the 28 delegates he had amassed, as well as the 58 delegates belonging to Senator Charles Percy of Illinois. After the assassination of Robert Kennedy, like the other candidates, Nixon took a break from campaigning. Reports suggested that the assassination all but assured his nomination. Upon returning to the trail, Nixon found that Rockefeller began to attack him. Rockefeller described Nixon as a man "of the old politics" who has "great natural capacity not to do the right thing, especially under pressure." Nixon refused to respond to the remarks, stating that he would not participate in attacks. As he edged closer to the nomination, discussions about his running mate arose. Republicans in the mid-west pushed for New York Mayor John Lindsay to be selected. The endorsement of Nixon by Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon raised speculation that he might be chosen. Congressman George Bush of Texas and Charles Percy were also mentioned as possible selections. At the end of the month, Nixon had two thirds of the required 667 delegates necessary to win the nomination.
On July 1, Nixon received the endorsement of Senator John G. Tower of Texas, handing him at least 40 delegates. With his nomination all but assured, Nixon's ad team began preparing for the general election. A series of advertisements featuring panel question and answer sessions with Nixon and friends of campaign staffers were filmed in New York. The tapes were sent to the swing states of Ohio, Michigan and Illinois, giving Nixon the advantage of advertising long before the Democratic Party settled on a candidate. At this time, Nixon decided with a group of legislators that "crime and disorder" would be presented as the number one issue in the nation. This continued to be a major theme of the Nixon campaign, and would continue to be used extensively during the general election. Nixon publicly announced his opposition to the military draft, proposing to replace the current system with a volunteer army incentivized with higher pay. Former President Dwight Eisenhower gave Nixon his endorsement in mid-July, breaking his tradition of waiting until after the primary, because of the election's importance. By the end of July, reports circulated that Nixon had 691 probable delegates for the convention, placing him over the 667 delegate threshold. However, Rockefeller disputed these numbers. Sources within Washington reported that Reagan caused greater concern for the Nixon campaign than Rockefeller. A possible scenario surfaced where Nixon's southern delegates would drop their support to back the more conservative Reagan. However, Nixon staffers believed that if such a scenario occurred, liberal Rockefeller delegates in the Northeast would support Nixon to prevent a Reagan nomination.
The Republican National Convention was held from August 5 to 9 at the Miami Beach Convention Center in Miami Beach, Florida. At the convention, Richard Nixon won the nomination for President on the first ballot with 692 delegates. Rockefeller finished in second with 277 delegates followed by Ronald Reagan, who had just entered the race, and compiled 182 delegates. Nixon's early nomination occurred partly because he held on to delegates in the South largely influenced by Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and delegate Charlton Lyons of Louisiana. After the nomination, Nixon held his hands in the air with two "v" signs of victory and delivered the acceptance speech he had been writing for the past two weeks. In the speech, he remarked: "Tonight I do not promise the millennium in the morning. I don't promise that we can eradicate poverty and end discrimination in the space of four or even eight years. But I do promise action. And a new policy for peace abroad, a new policy for peace and progress and justice at home." He called for a new era of negotiation with communist nations, a strengthening of the criminal justice system to fight crime, and marked himself as a champion of the American Dream. Nixon also discussed economics, articulating his opposition to social welfare, and advocating programs designed to help African Americans start their own small businesses. By the end of the address, he promised that "the long dark night for America is about to end." Following the speech, Nixon selected Governor Spiro Agnew of Maryland as his running mate. Agnew was relatively unknown nationally, and was selected due to his alleged appeal to African Americans, and work for the Nixon campaign after an embarrassing experience as the head of the Draft Rockefeller movement. Agnew was nominated at the convention without much opposition. Observers later noted that the convention had featured Nixon as the centrist candidate with Rockefeller to his left and Reagan to his right. The same analysis applied to the general campaign, as commentators noted that Nixon would stand to the right of the still undecided Democratic nominee but would fall to the left of American Independent Party candidate George Wallace.
As the general election campaign began, Nixon decided that he would focus his efforts on the "big seven" states of California, Texas, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York. He tapped Roger Ailes to produce one hour television programs to advertise the campaign to strategically chosen regions. The campaign also continued to use panel segments throughout the general election, opting to air live, using real citizens whom they instructed to ask tough questions because the campaign believed that Nixon responded well to such questions. He started his ground campaign for the general election with a tour of the mid-west. While on his first stop in Springfield, Illinois, he discussed the importance of unity, stating that "America [now] needs to be united more than any time since Lincoln." He then traveled to Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania before returning to New York for a meeting with former rival Nelson Rockefeller. In the latest Gallup polls following the convention, Nixon led Humphrey 45% to 29% and topped McCarthy 42% to 37%. At the end of the month, Hubert Humphrey narrowly won Democratic presidential nominee over McCarthy at a protest filled convention. Pundits argued that the split party and lack of "law and order" at the convention placed Nixon in a good position. Around this time, Nixon began regularly receiving briefings about the Vietnam War from President Johnson. Johnson also explained to Nixon that he did not want the war to be politicized, and Nixon agreed but questioned whether Humphrey would also comply.
Following the Democratic convention, Nixon continued to be labeled as the front-runner for the presidency and was described as "relaxed [and] confident," counter to his "unsure" self from 1960. Observers also wondered if even the Democratic President Johnson favored Nixon over Humphrey. Nixon traveled to Chicago to campaign and was greeted by a large crowd, estimated at several hundred thousand. In the city, he used his campaign tactic of televised town hall meetings before a citizen panel, to speak to audiences throughout the state of Illinois. Prior to his visit, he called upon Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, the highest ranking African American in the U.S. government, to campaign with him on trips to Illinois and California. Nixon referred to Brooke as "one of my top advisers" while in Chicago and during a visit to San Francisco. Observers described this as an attempt by Nixon to further gain favor with the African American community. In mid-September, Nixon's running mate Spiro Agnew went on the offensive against Humphrey, acting in a role assigned by Nixon advisers. He referred to the Vice President as being "soft on Communism" as well as inflation and "law and order", and compared him to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. At this time, Nixon sent advisor and former Governor of Pennsylvania William Scranton on an overseas fact finding trip in Europe to gain intelligence on the Western alliance and Soviet issues. In response to Humphrey's calls for a face to face debate, Nixon remarked: "Before we can have a debate between Nixon and Humphrey, Humphrey's got to settle his debate with himself." Nixon campaigned in San Francisco, in front of 10,000 supporters amidst an array of protests. The candidate took on the protesters first hand, and delivered his "forgotten American" speech, declaring that election day would be "a day of protest for the forgotten American" which included those that "obey the law, pay their taxes, go to church, send their children to school, love their country and demand new leadership." By the end of the month, many in the Nixon campaign believed his election was guaranteed and began to prepare for the transition period, despite Nixon's warning that "the one thing that can beat us now is overconfidence." Gallup polls showed Nixon leading Humphrey 43% to 28% at the end of September.
In early October, commentators weighed in on Nixon's advantage, explaining that he could legitimately blame the Johnson administration for the Vietnam War and use campaign advertisements with images of dead American soldiers while avoiding discussion about the war with the excuse that he did not want to disrupt the peace talks in Paris. However, anti-war protesters heckled Nixon repeatedly on the campaign trail. Nixon addressed the American Conservative Union on October 9, and argued that George Wallace's American Independent Party candidacy could split the anti-Administration vote, and help the Democrats. The Union decided to back Nixon over Wallace, labeling the third party candidate's beliefs as "Populist." As Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Edmund Muskie criticized Nixon for his connections to Strom Thurmond, Nixon continued to oppose a possible debate with Humphrey and Wallace as well as a debate between the running mates on the basis that he did not want to give Wallace any more exposure. Observers argued that Nixon also opposed debates because of his experience during the 1960 encounter with John F. Kennedy, which many cited as a factor in his defeat. In another lesson learned from 1960, the campaign employed 100,000 workers to oversee Election day polling sites to prevent a recurrence of what many Republicans viewed as 1960's stolen election. Nixon went on a train campaign tour of Ohio near the end of October. From the back of the "Nixon Victory Special" car, he bashed Vice President Humphrey as well as the Secretary of Agriculture and Attorney General of the Johnson cabinet, for farmer's debt and the rising crime rate. At this time, the campaign released two controversial television advertisements juxtaposing a smiling Humphrey with images of the Vietnam War and the chaos at the 1968 Democratic National Convention; the advertisements aroused protests from the Humphrey campaign. By the end of October, Nixon began to lose his edge over Humphrey; he led only 44% to 36% in Gallup polls, down five points from a few weeks earlier. Observers noted that the decline was related to Nixon's refusal to debate.
At the beginning of November, President Johnson announced that a bombing halt had been achieved in Vietnam. Observers noted that the development significantly helped Humphrey although Nixon had given his support to the talks. At this time, Nixon operative Anna Chennault secretly spoke with the South Vietnamese and explained that they could receive a better deal under Nixon. This charge, along with remarks from Nixon supporter and future Defense Secretary Melvin Laird that Johnson deliberately misinformed Nixon during briefs, angered the President. He spoke with the Nixon supporters Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen and Senator George Smathers of Florida, who informed Nixon of Johnson's frustration. Two days before the election, Nixon went on Meet the Press and explained that he would cooperate completely with Johnson. He then phoned the President after the appearance and personally reassured him. The final Harris poll before the election showed Nixon trailing Humphrey 43% to 40%, but Gallup's final poll showed Nixon leading 42% to 40%. On the eve of the election, Nixon and Humphrey bought time on rival television networks to make their final pleas to the American people. Nixon appeared on NBC, while his Democratic challenger went on ABC. Nixon used this appearance to counter the surge given to Humphrey by the bombing halt, claiming that he had just received "a very disturbing report" that tons of supplies were being moved into South Vietnam by the North. Humphrey labeled this charge as "irresponsible", causing Nixon to counter that Humphrey "doesn't know what's going on." Overall, Nixon spent $6,270,000 on television advertising, most of which was judged to have only reinforced supporters.
On November 5, Election Day, Nixon defeated Humphrey by a margin of 301 to 191 in the Electoral College, with 46 going to George Wallace. Nixon edged Humphrey in the popular vote, 43.42% to 42.72%, by an extreme close margin of approximately 500,000 votes. Nixon won most of the West and mid-West but lost parts of the Northeast and Texas to Humphrey and lost the deep South to Wallace.
Nixon's campaign was noted for its unprecedented reliance on television (and relative disregard for newspapers). Television had hurt Nixon in the 1960 race against Kennedy; in 1968, he assembled a staff that helped turn the medium to his advantage. This staff included Harry Treleaven, Frank Shakespeare, Len Garment, and Roger Ailes. Many commercials for the general election—sequences of still photographs with voice-overs by Nixon—were produced by Eugene "Gene" Jones.
When Nixon himself appeared on television, it was through the format of live conferences in which Nixon was questioned by members of the public. Participants were usually but not always Republicans, and Nixon may have benefited from the inclusion of unsympathetic questioners. The panels (and audiences) were created with careful attention to demographics, always including one African American and one member of the working class. Press were not admitted.
Although Nixon initially escalated America's involvement in the Vietnam War, he subsequently ended US involvement in 1973 and ended the draft. Nixon's visit to the People's Republic of China in 1972 opened diplomatic relations between the two nations, and he initiated détente and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union the same year. Domestically, his administration generally embraced policies that transferred power from Washington to the states. Among other things, he initiated wars on cancer and drugs, imposed wage and price controls, enforced desegregation of Southern schools and established the Environmental Protection Agency. Though he presided over Apollo 11, he scaled back manned space exploration. He was reelected by a landslide in 1972 before resigning in disgrace after the Watergate scandal.
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