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Election of 1972: Nixon Leads the Way

The Election of 1972 completed the reversal of Republican and Democratic fortunes from 1964, when the Democrats had delivered to the Republican Party such a crushing blow that some observers questioned whether the two-party system would continue. In 1972, it was shown clearly that there is a pendulum in politics, and the years after showed it never stops swinging. Richard Nixon's renomination by his party was a foregone conclusion, with his success at extricating the United States from combat in Vietnam and the recognition of China establishing a strong foreign-policy position. The excitement was limited to the Democratic Party. Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts was considered the very early favorite, but the incident at Chappaquiddick in 1969 ended his prospects. Representatives Patsy Mink of Hawaii and Shirley Chisholm of New York both announced their candidacies for the Democratic nomination, becoming the first Asian-American and black women to run for the office. Neither was a major factor. Senator ^George McGovern was highly successful in the primaries, despite opposition from many establishment Democrats. At the 1972 Democratic convention in Miami in July, McGovern wsa nominated easily. He chose Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri as his running mate. When it later was learned that Eagleton had been hospitalized for mental problems, and had undergone electic shock therapy, he was forced to withdraw and his place on the ticket was taken by Sargent Shriver, a Kennedy clan member and former head of the Peace Corps^. At the 1972 Republican national convention in Miami in late August, Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew effortlessly renominated. The minor opposition in the primaries from Pete McClosky and John Ashbrook had not amounted to much and Nixon was the unanimous choice on the first ballot except for a single vote cast for McClosky. The campaign was almost a formality. It was evident from the beginning that McGovern was too liberal for the majority of American voters. The results on election day, November 3, 1972, were an overwhelming Republican victory. McGovern carried only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, losing even his home state of South Dakota. Voters, however, distinguished McGovern from the Democratic Party as a whole. Republican gains were limited to a dozen seats in the House of Representatives, leaving them 50 seats short of the Democrats. Democrats actually added two seats in the Senate, giving them 56 to the Republicans two. During the campaign, despite his overwhelmingly strong position, Richard Nixon had engaged in a variety of dirty tricks, culminating in the botched burglary in the Watergate. The Watergate Scandal would ultimately be his undoing, leading to his resignation in 1974, but it had no impact on the 1972 campaign.

Election of 1972
Party Electoral
Richard M. Nixon (NY)
Spiro T. Agnew (MD)
Republican 520 46,740,323
George S. McGovern (SD)
R. Sargent Shriver (MD)
Democratic 17 28,901,598
Joseph Hospers (CA)
Theodora Nathan (OR)
Libertarian 1 2,691