The presidential election of 1968 was one of the most chaotic in American history, reflecting a time that was in many ways, equally chaotic. At the beginning of the election season, President Lyndon Johnson was the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, he should have won his party's nomination without any trouble. But growing opposition to the war in Vietnam, unrest on college campuses, and urban rioting, made him vulnerable. In November 1967, Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination, and that ending the Vietnam War was his central issue.

Conflict in Vietnam

Tet Offensive - January 31, 1968

The Tet Offensive was a coordinated series of fierce attacks on more than 100 cities and towns in South Vietnam by over 70,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces. The leader of the Communist People’s Army of Vietnam, planned the offensive to instill a rebellion among the South Vietnamese population and encourage the United States to scale back its support of the Saigon regime.

Map showing regions affected by the Tet Offensive

Though U.S. and South Vietnamese forces managed to hold off the Communist attacks, news coverage of the offensive proved shocking to the American public and further eroded support for the war effort. Despite heavy casualties, North Vietnam achieved a strategic victory as the attacks marked a turning point in the Vietnam War and the beginning of the slow American withdrawal from the region.

The Immense Cost of Lives of the Tet Offensive

The US Presidential Election of 1968

New Hampshire Primary – March 12, 1968

Sen. Eugene McCarthy, a critic of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Vietnam policies, captured 42 % of the vote in New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary, while Lyndon Johnson got 48 percent. A Harris poll indicated that voter were more anti-Johnson, than anti-war and propelled McCarthy’s near upset.

In 1964, Johnson considered McCarthy, a Catholic, his running mate before choosing Sen. Hubert Humphrey. McCarthy had announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination in January 1968, saying he hoped to harness the growing antiwar sentiment in the country, particularly among younger voters.

Johnson, upset, depressed and frustrated by the damage being caused to his political legacy by the Vietnam War, announced on March 31 that he would “neither seek nor accept” the Democratic nomination.

Sen. Robert Kennedy, who had been reluctant to challenge Johnson entered the race. Kennedy won most of the primaries which he contested until being assassinated.

Continued War Unrest

When the Democratic National Convention opened in Chicago, a conflict erupted over the party’s Vietnam stance. As violent demonstrations against the war took place in the Chicago streets, the delegates chose Humphrey, who had stayed out of the primaries, as their presidential nominee.

Protestors being arrested in Chicago. By the time the week ended, the Chicago police had reported nearly 600 arrests, and 119 police and 100 protesters had suffered injuries

Bobby Kennedy

In 1968, Kennedy ran against Eugene McCarthy in the presidential election primaries after Johnson’s retraction and as an opponent of the war. Soon after on June 5, 1968, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.

Lyndon Baines Johnson

Often referred to as LBJ, was an American politician who served as the 36th President of the United States from 1963 to 1969, assuming the office after serving as the Vice President of the United States under President John F. Kennedy from 1961 to 1963. A Democrat from Texas, he previously served as a United States Representative from 1937 to 1949 and then as a United States Senator from 1949 to 1961.

Johnson Bows Out of the Race – March 31, 1968

Johnson was dealing with his declining health and bleak political forecasts in the upcoming primaries and decided he could not win the nomination without a major political and personal struggle. During a televised address regarding the War, the President announced that he would not seek re-election. By withdrawing from the race, he could avoid defeat and could keep control of the party by supporting Hubert Humphrey, his Vice President. During the same year Johnson believed he could secure his place in the history books by ending the Vietnam War before the election in November, thus giving Humphrey the boost he would need to win.

American Perils - Assassinations

Martin Luther King Assassination - April 4, 1968

On Oct. 14, 1964 Martin Luther King Jr. became the youngest man (age 35) to receive a Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. On Nov. 2, 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed a bill to declare Martin Luther King Jr. Day in remembrance of all the great things he did to fight for civil rights. He was the first African American to be granted a national holiday.

Robert Kennedy Assassination – June 5, 1968

Sen. Robert Kennedy was shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles just after winning the California presidential primary. Immediately after he announced to his supporters that the country was ready to end its divisions, Kennedy was shot several times by a 22-year-old Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan and he died a day later.

The Assassination of Bobby Kennedy Shocks the Nation!

Kennedy was perceived by many to be the only person in American politics capable of uniting the people and was beloved by the minority community for his integrity and devotion to the civil rights cause. After winning California’s primary, Kennedy was in the position to receive the Democratic nomination and face off against Richard Nixon in the general election, unfortunately that never happened.

Sadly, the last of Kennedy’s children was born 6 months after his passing.

Chicago Democratic Convention – August 26-29, 1968

The 1968 National Convention of the U.S. Democratic Party was held August 26–29 at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago, Illinois. As President Lyndon B. Johnson had announced he would not seek re-election, the purpose of the convention was to select a new presidential nominee to run as the Democratic Party's candidate for the office. The keynote speaker was Senator Daniel Inouye from Hawaii. Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey and Senator Edmund S. Muskie of Maine were nominated for President and Vice President, respectively.

Hubert H. Humphrey

Vice President Hubert Humphrey then entered into the race, but did not compete in any primaries; he inherited delegates previously pledged to Johnson and then collected delegates in caucus states, especially controlled by local Democratic Party leaders. After Kennedy's assassination on June 5, the Democratic Party's divisions grew. At the moment of Kennedy's death the delegate count stood at Humphrey 561.5, Kennedy 393.5, McCarthy 258. Kennedy's murder left his delegates uncommitted.

George McGovern

Support within the party was divided between Senator McCarthy, who ran an anti-war campaign and was seen as the peace candidate, Vice President Humphrey, who was seen as the candidate representing the Johnson point of view, and Senator George McGovern, who appealed to some of the Kennedy supporters.

In the end, the Democrats nominated Humphrey. Even though 80 percent of the primary voters had been for anti-war candidates. Humphrey, who had not entered any of 13 state primary elections, won the Democratic nomination, and went on to lose the election to the Republican Richard Nixon.

George Wallace

The election also featured a strong third party effort by former Alabama Governor George Wallace. Because Wallace's campaign promoted segregation, he proved to be a formidable candidate in the South; no third-party candidate has won an entire state's electoral votes since.

Richard M. Nixon

Richard Nixon's famous victory pose

In August of 1968 Richard Nixon made a remarkable comeback after winning the Republican nomination calling for a commitment to law and order. He had managed a 43% of the vote over the Democrat Hubert Humphrey.

1968 Election Map Results

State by State Election Results

On November 5, 1968, the Republican nominee, former Vice President Richard Nixon won the election over the Democratic nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Nixon ran on a campaign that promised to restore "law and order". Some consider the election of 1968 a realigning election that permanently disrupted the New Deal Coalition that had dominated presidential politics for 36 years. It was also the last election in which two opposing candidates were vice-presidents.

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