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Election of 1968: The Renaissance of Richard Nixon

The great issue of the election of 1968 was the Vietnam War. The Democratic Party was deeply split. After campaigning against Goldwater in 1964 by representing him as a warmonger, President Johnson had begun a sharp escalation of the conflict almost as soon as his second term began. By 1968, the war was becoming increasingly unpopular, and the heart of the opposition was in the Democratic Party. The Republican Party, ironically, was more solidly in support of Johnson's war than his own. Support for Lyndon Johnson's renomination began to erode after Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota announced his intention to compete with Johnson in the primaries. Robert F. Kennedy, who had been avoiding direct criticism of Johnson's war policies, noted McCarthy's initials successes and jumped into the fray himself. By California in early June, it was a three-way contest. Johnson had dropped out at the end of March, but his place as the "establishment" candidate had been taken by Hubert Humphrey. Everything changed when Sirhan Sirhan assassinated Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles on June 6, 1968. The anti-war Democrats did not unite behind McCarthy and no other plausible candidate emerged. During a tumultuous convention in Chicago, Humphrey won the Democrats 1968 nomination for president. His running mate was Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine. Richard Nixon had been rebuilding his support within Republican ranks by campaigning on behalf of Republican candidates across the country, and building an organization for himself in the process. He formally began campaigning in January of 1968, and quickly established himself as the front runner. Governor George Romney of Michigan tried briefly to become the anti-war candidate in the Republican Party, but faded early. Liberals threw their support behind Nelson Rockefeller, while the conservative wing favored California governor Ronald Reagan. Neither had enough support on their own and they could not agree on the plan to "stop Nixon." At the 1968 Republican national convention in Miami, Richard Nixon was victorious on the first ballot. He chose the relatively unknown governor of Maryland, Spiro Agnew, to be his running mate. A substantial third-party alternative was presented by the American Independent Party, which nominated former Alabama governor George Wallace. Wallace drew support in the Deep South, where he carried some states, and also was popular among poorly educated whites in other parts of the country. Joining Wallace on the AIP ticket was former general Curtis LeMay, who made controversial comments about using nuclear weapons in Vietnam. The November 6, 1968, election resulted in victory for Nixon and Agnew. Their margin in the popular voting was under a million, but they easily won in the Electoral College with 301 electoral votes from 31 states.

Election of 1968
Party Electoral
Richard M. Nixon (NY)
Spiro T. Agnew (MD)
Republican 301 31,710,470
Hubert H. Humphrey (MN)
Edmund S. Muskie (ME)
Democratic 191 30,898,055
George C. Wallace (AL)
Curtis E. LeMay (OH)
American Independent 46 9,446,167