Fear, Loathing and Gumbo on the Campaign Trail '72

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1969 – 1971: Background

The Front Runners in 1971

Senate Majority Whip Ted Kennedy, the younger brother of former president John F. Kennedy and former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, had been the favorite to win the 1972 nomination, but his hopes were derailed by his role in the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident.

After Kennedy’s disgrace, the establishment favorite for the Democratic nomination was Ed Muskie, the moderate who acquitted himself well as the 1968 Democratic vice-presidential candidate. In August 1971 Harris polling amid a growing economic crisis, Muskie came out on top of incumbent Nixon if the election had been held that day.

The McGovern-Fraser Commission

Formally known as Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection, the commission was created in response to the tumultuous 1968 Democratic National Convention. Soon after Nixon's electoral victory in November 1968, the 28-member commission was selected by Democratic National Committee Chair Senator Fred R. Harris (D-Oklahoma). Senator George McGovern (D-South Dakota) initially chaired the commission, until he resigned in January 1971 to run for President.

The manner in which Vice President Hubert Humphrey had been selected as the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee in 1968, together with the disorder and violence that had surrounded the 1968 Chicago convention, left the party in disarray and unable to unite behind its nominee and platform. What took place in Chicago went well beyond party leaders’ ignoring candidate Eugene McCarthy, who could claim to have demonstrated his appeal to voters in the primaries (and a general disregard of the delegates representing the late Robert F. Kennedy, who had won a number of primaries before his murder). Humphrey was nominated despite not having entered a single primary with the assistance of party bosses and the background lobbying of President Lyndon Johnson, who dictated who his successor would be.

Disgust with the nominating process led Democrats to create a commission that would improve the conditions under which future nominees would be selected. Specifically, the commission set about reducing the ability of back-room party brokers to wield hidden power in the selection process.

One of the unintended consequences of McGovern-Fraser reforms was an enormous surge in the number of state party presidential primaries. Prior to the reforms, Democrats in two-thirds of the states used elite-run state conventions to choose convention delegates. In the post-reform era, over three-quarters of the states used primary elections to choose delegates, and over 80% of convention delegates were selected in these primaries. This had the effect of opening up the nominating process to a candidate who could exploit the new primary system to circumvent the old power establishment in the Democratic Party.

Since state laws governing primaries covered both parties, the Republicans were effected by these changes as well. However, in President Richard Nixon they had a popular incumbent. He only faced challenges from two fringe candidates: Rep. John Ashbrook of Ohio who campaigned against the President with a charge that Nixon was not conservative enough, while Rep. Pete McCloksey of California challenged Nixon from the left as a sort of Republican McGovern. Neither challenger won any primaries or seriously threatened Nixon’s re-nomination.

The 1972 Democratic Primaries: A Dark Horse emerges

One of the longest of long shots in American political history unfolded in the form of the 1972 campaign of the former Louisiana governor, Democrat John Julian McKeithen for the Democratic nomination for President.

At a time when the Democratic party was shifting to the left, McKeithen – who, if he was known at all outside of Louisiana, was known for shady politics and some violent confrontations with organized labour - came from the right wing of the Southern Democratic party. At first he seemed like an unlikely candidate for the Democratic nomination.

Like 1968 and likely 1972 candidate, Alabama governor George Wallace, McKeithen was the governor of a Southern state where the conflict between old line segregationists and federally imposed civil rights programs was still a political and social flash point. McKeithen’s political career had been the product of a Southern Democratic political machine which had held sway in Louisiana (like most Southern states) since the end of Reconstruction nearly a century earlier. From this one-party dominance had come Jim Crow racial segregation laws and a very conservative attitude toward governing, often mixed with a populist appeal for winning elections. Southern Democrats were quick to protect their sectional interests, and had developed an antipathy to Northern “intellectual” solutions that looked down on the South as backward.

This was a direct contrast to the socially liberal and activist national Democratic Party, which had lead to sectional splits within the party. Southern Democratic leaders had created their own “Dixiecrat” Presidential ticket in the 1948 Presidential election to protect segregation and, more recently, many white Southern Democrats had supported Republicans Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon in the previous two presidential elections.

Like Alabama’s Wallace (and Louisiana’s [in]famous Huey Long a generation earlier: Long, had been a populist demagogue who used state government as his personal political instrument, serving as an inspirational model for both Wallace and McKeithen), McKeithen was rural populist, a political type that could be successful in the South and the Midwest farming states, but which was regarded with more scepticism in the urban and industrial areas of the country. Wallace had given Southern populism a bad name among the liberal elites during his 1968 third party campaign for the presidency. More than a few establishment (Northern) Democrats harboured the belief (whether true or not) that Richard Nixon had won a very close race only because Wallace had undermined the Democratic Party’s traditional support in the South and among blue collar Democrats in the North (whose voting habits were becoming increasingly conservative). Unlike Wallace and Long, McKeithen was not a firebrand, rather he was a consensus builder, and that was to work to his advantage.

Many national politicians were slow to recognize the impact of the changes brought about by the McGovern-Fraser Commission. But McKeithen together with his supporters – notably Louisiana attorney and former State Senator and banker William (Billy) Boles; Louisiana State Senator Benjamin “Sixty” Rayburn and Louisiana newspaper publisher Sam Hanna sr. – recognized that these primaries resembled Louisiana’s jungle primaries. In a Louisiana jungle primary (where all candidates for an office ran together on a single ballot) it was only necessary to win a competitive proportion of the vote (rather than over fifty percent) to be viable in the run-off election. The art of the game was to stand out enough to place in the top two in a diverse field of candidates. The delegate selection process in many states appeared to have a similar structure.

The system would favour a candidate who started early and who could attract enough interest to gain momentum early on and gain name recognition, so that he might appear to be winning, or at least doing well, every time a caucus or a primary was held. McKeithen, at least partially inspired by Huey Long’s example (McKeithen was a member of Long’s political faction in Louisiana) believed he had a shot in such a contest, and that he could position himself as a more likeable populist than Alabama Governor George Wallace, expanding upon Wallace’s base of blue-collar Democrats to include middle class Democrats who felt disenfranchised by the national party’s swing to the left. McKeithen particularly believed that they would react to voice more moderate than Wallace’s that defended their interests against the activist wing of the party.

The anti-war activist and student support had propelled McCarthy’s 1968 candidacy to the point where he undermined the candidacy of then incumbent President Lyndon Johnson, all over the issue of the Vietnam War. By the spring of 1971 this group along with other party liberals were being courted by the only declared candidate, South Dakota Senator George McGovern, who had quickly grasped the significance of the grass root reforms (in part because he was the first chair of the McGovern-Fraser Commission).

John McKeithen believed his post-1966 record of moderation on race relations, along with his record of economic and educational accomplishments, as Louisiana governor would work in his favour. The least a primary challenge could do was raise his national profile (for a possible run for the U.S. Senate in the future, or a position on the Democratic national committee, or even as a potential Vice Presidential pick at the national convention). So at the end of 1970 he decided to start a campaign for the Presidential nomination.

In late 1970 and early 1971 McKeithen was able to raise sufficient money from Louisiana donors to begin campaigning. In particular he picked-up some money from Louisiana’s oil industry, with which he had close ties. He also had an ally in fellow Louisiana Democrat, U.S. Senator Russell B. Long (son of Huey Long), a favorite of the oil and gas industry, who was also concerned about the leftward swing of his national party. What Senator Long initially expected of a McKeithen candidacy is unclear (other than perhaps a message to the national Democratic leadership) but he proved a valuable ally for McKeithen, who had few influential national contacts. As McKeithen’s candidacy progressed, Senator Long was able to persuade Louisiana Representative and House Majority Leader Hale Boggs and others wary of George McGovern in the national Democratic Party leadership to endorse McKeithen.

McKeithen officially resigned from the Louisiana governorship on August 9, 1971 (9 months before his term ended) so that he could devout his time to five months of campaigning before the 1972 Iowa caucus. His friend Sam Hanna arranged for some press coverage on McKeithen’s achievements in the “New South”, likening him to other reform minded Southern Democratic governors such as Terry Sanford of North Carolina, Leroy Collins of Florida and Carl Sanders of Georgia. This was done to set him apart from Wallace in the minds of Northern Democrats.

His early campaigning in Iowa, Florida, Illinois and Wisconsin in August and September of 1971 were not taken very seriously: few people there knew who he was. At the time Governor McKeithen travelled around these states with his sons Jesse and Fox and one or two volunteer aides, addressing gatherings of Democrats in rural or suburban settings. Mostly he introduced himself, and spoke of a program of returning honesty to Washington. He ran as an outsider trying to inject “the concerns of ordinary Americans like yourselves into the race.” He was a “fresh face” offering a contrast to “the Washington crowd.”

“I’m John McKeithen, former governor of Louisiana, and you don’t know me from Adam. So, you ask, why should I listen to this fella rant about running for President? Well, friends, I may not be from (location where he was speaking), but I’m a father who loves his family; I’ve worked hard for all I have, my parents were working folk, just like you. I’m a veteran, I love my country and I’m concerned about the future. That’s why I’m in this race. As governor of Louisiana I did three things; I brought jobs, I improved education and I invited blacks to join us in creating a better State for everyone. I want to bring honesty and hard working values back into the government of the United States. To borrow an old riverboat expression, I want to cut the cards before that Washington crowd deals the next hand. As a hard working father I want to say my peace about how this country should be going, and what’s gone wrong under Mr. Nixon, and why the lefties aren’t doing much better. I want to leave our country a better place for all of our children. I’m running for President. Won’t you he’p me?”

This pitch was one of the most unusual heard in recent presidential elections; at first the Democratic faithful didn’t know what to make of it – and it quickly became the center of discussion, which guaranteed that McKeithen’s profile rose quickly in national awareness as grass root members talked about him.

Initially, McKeithen spoke before rural and working class audiences, his folksy populism began to catch on, in part because – accent aside – the Louisiana governor sounded closer to them than many established politicians. In the months leading up to January 1972 he spoke about “kitchen table” concerns (“we discuss our family’s concerns at our old kitchen table, and believe me, that’s when I get an earful from my wife.”) more than big policy considerations, and cemented himself in the minds of many as a candidate who spoke in their terms about their issues. McKeithen did address wider issues, such as the Vietnam War, by expressing his support for the troops but saying that the country needed a new plan.

“Mr. Nixon’s secret plan to win the war was so secret he forgot to tell himself about it,” McKeithen would remark, often to ripples of laughter from his audience. “And the boys in Hanoi, they haven’t seen too much of it either. But our boys, they’re the ones suffering for want of a honorable end to that mess.”

Working the crowds in the mid-west and the South paid off for McKeithen as the relative unknown started to become known, and was receiving invitations to be a featured speaker at various settings. At the same time his relatively modest war chest began to receive contributions, especially with Billy Boles aggressively beating the bushes for contributions.

It was during the primary campaign that McKeithen first attracted attention with his Earned Income Tax Credit and his Education Investment Credit plans. Both ideas would allow low to middle income taxpayers to maximize deductions directly from their payroll tax, a boon to those who had little investment income and depended on a pay check to make ends meet. The Education Investment Credit would allow parents to deduct money from their payroll tax and contribute it directly to a tuition fund for their children. In addition he wanted to add a tax-free federal contribution to each holder’s EIC, thus increasing the amount of tax-free interest earning value of this saving and education vehicle. He also spoke of a Small Business Incentive program that would make capital available to small businesses in need of investment but unable to meet the cash flow requirements of direct bank loans. He pitched it as a way for the small businessman to gain access to investment dollars without having to give up control of their business or mortgage their home.

Gaining support from organized labour was crucial for any Democratic candidate: Humphrey’s 1968 nomination had in part rested on the support of the labour unions. McKeithen was no more favoured by the leadership of organized labour than was George McGovern. While union leaders disliked McGovern’s leftward direction and anti-establishment leanings, in McKeithen they saw a right-wing enemy who could just as easily been one of their Republican detractors.

As Louisiana Governor, McKeithen had favoured right to work legislation and placing limits on union power. His anti-labour stance had even led to an assassination attempt when someone planted a bomb at the Louisiana state capitol in an effort to kill him.

At the same time McKeithen had a close working relationship with Louisiana State Senator Benjamin “Sixty” Rayburn, a long time friend of the labour movement in the Louisiana legislature. While Governor McKeithen had been busy promoting his “right to profit” program, he and Senator Rayburn had quietly worked on compromises that aided organized labour’s growth in membership and influence in Louisiana. Rayburn reminded his contacts in the unions of this fact, and implied that McKeithen was not nearly so hostile to organized labour as he first appeared; rather he was playing the Southern dislike of unions for political advantage. Rayburn, through his contacts, arranged for McKeithen to meet with George Meany, President of the AFL-CIO, and Leonard Woodcock, President of the UAW. During those meetings McKeithen persuaded the two labour giants that he was not their enemy, and that they should at least have an open mind about his campaign.

By the time of the Iowa caucus on January 24, McKeithen’s wooing of Iowa Democrats paid off. He tied with George McGovern for second place behind Maine Senator Edmund Muskie, an impressive showing for a dark horse candidate with little national following to this point.

Following a previous plan, McKeithen skipped the New Hampshire primary, where he was sure that Muskie would win, and instead concentrated his efforts on defeating Wallace in Florida. Between March 14 and April 4 McKeithen beat Wallace in Florida (a small margin of white Floridians were more attracted to his folksy style over Wallace’s firebrand), came third to Muskie and McGovern in Illinois and beat McGovern, Hubert Humphrey and Wallace in Wisconsin.

Until March 4 Edmund Muskie had been the perceived Democratic front runner, but the "Canuck Letter" incident made hin drop out of the race. Prior to the New Hampshire primary the Manchester Union Leader published a letter which purported that Muskie had used derogatory language in describing New England inhabitants of French Canadian origin (the so-called “Canuck letter”). Since this was a sizeable group of voters in the northern New Hampshire states, the matter could have had an effect on Muskie’s presidential campaign, if believed.

On March 4, three days before the New Hampshire primary, Muskie gave an impassioned rebuttal to a smear written about him in front of the offices of the Manchester Union Leader. During that speech it was reported that Muskie was crying (it was actually falling snowflakes landing on his face); these reports damaged Muskie’s image as a cool and reflective man. The effect was seen in a drop-off of support for Muskie in the New Hampshire primary. This damaged Muskie’s campaign against McGovern, to the point that he withdrew shortly after.

Subsequent investigation revealed that staffers at the Committee to Re-elect the President had manufactured the “Canuck letter,” which the conservative publisher of the Union Leader had published without questioning its provenance.

Once McKeithen defeated Wallace in Florida, attention began to focus on the Louisiana governor and his folksy style. McGovern began to attack McKeithen as a segregationist, while Wallace attacked him as a “soft soaper”. McKeithen may not have been able to stand-up to an attack by one, but being attacked from both sides gave McKeithen room to position himself as a centrist and consensus candidate.

Prior to the Illinois primary on March 21, the McKeithen campaign, aided by Senator Long, approached Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to curry support from one of that state’s most powerful Democrats. Dailey at first re-buffed the Southern candidate, writing him off as an unlikely prospect.

McKeithen joined with McGovern in attacking Nixon’s continuation and seeming expansion of the Vietnam war (but he was always careful to express his support of the U.S. soldiers fighting it; expressly reminding audiences that he had been an infantry solider in the Pacific during World War II). McKeithen even discussed ending the draft. He also adopted Wallace’s get tough law and order platform, but he removed some of the venom or “meanness” from it (less about “beating radicals”, more about stopping problems before they started). Since Govenor McKeithen had defused several tense situations in Louisiana in the late 1960’s through negotiation, and proved to be tough when necessary, he had a record from which to speak on the issue in “law-and-order” terms. To Wallace’s taunts of “soft soaper” McKeithen countered “I use soft soap every day to keep myself clean. I’m afraid that Mr. Wallace will have to use a lot of that soap in his mouth to say the same.” That drew some laughs, which was part of a wider strategy of turning Wallace’s taunts into one-liners that at the same time played-up McKeithen while putting down Wallace.

When McGovern supporters called him a segregationist and a “gumbo Wallace”, McKeithen would be equally as robust in pointing out that he was no liberal by their definition – as was most every other “normal American” by his reckoning. McKeithen pointed out that he was a product of the segregated South – he didn’t run from that - but that he had learned from his experiences to “put away the bad from our past,” and “move ahead with the good.” The good: an appreciation of the needs of ordinary Americans and an understanding that even if they disagreed with the Vietnam war and other problems, they were not ready to burn down the country in opposition. McKeithen’s slogan became “a time for truth” and “less shouting, more elbow grease.”

”The time is for the government had to return to serving the people, and for this country to turn toward the industry and good sense of the hard working Americans.” This theme plaid well among rural and suburban Democrats, especially those nostalgic for the New Deal and Truman years, when the government had been seen as for “the little man,” and not dictating social change. These were the people who felt that McGovern and his supporters wanted to take the party in a direction they didn’t understand and didn’t want to go.

To counter McGovern’s specific charge that he was a segregationist, McKeithen pointed out that the allegation wasn’t fair since he had appointed Louisiana’s first African-American judges and worked closely with the black community during his tenure; McKeithen trotted out black Louisiana officials to defend his civil rights record.

“My pledge has always been to give the average, working, taxpaying, family man and woman an even chance to get ahead; and every means every, no color line!”

At the same time McKeithen used his record of economic leadership and growth in Louisiana to attract support from the business community; he spoke of business as a partner with government, not an opponent. He also lambasted Nixon economic policies which had lead to inflation and a rise in interest rates.

By the time of the Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio primaries at the end of April and early May McKeithen, the dark horse, was eating away at most other centrist candidate’s support, and chopping up Wallace’s onetime hold on the blue collar vote. He beat Hubert Humphrey in Pennsylvania and Ohio, knocking the 1968 Democratic nominee out of the race. Wallace beat McKeithen in Alabama and North Carolina, but McKeithen beat him in Tennessee. He also won his home state’s primary despite a spirited challenge from New York congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (the first African-American woman to contest for the Democratic nomination).

After George McGovern won the Massachusetts primary journalist Bob Novak phoned Democratic politicians around the country. They agreed with his assessment that blue-collar workers voting for McGovern did not understand what he really stood for. Two days later, on April 27, Novak reported in a column that an unnamed Democratic senator had said of McGovern: "The people don’t know McGovern is for amnesty, abortion and legalization of pot. Once Middle America - Catholic Middle America, in particular - finds this out, he’s dead." The label stuck and McGovern became known as the candidate of "amnesty, abortion and acid."

At the time Novak was accused of manufacturing the quote on behalf of the Nixon campaign, a charge which Novak rebutted. However his source wished to remain anonymous.

Both McKeithen and Wallace made a point of out of Novak’s comments though, painting McGovern as an out of the mainstream radical. McKeithen in particular used the “Amnesty, Abortion and Acid” charge to paint himself as an everyman when compared with McGovern. McKeithen pledged not to extend amnesty to draft dodgers, to leave abortion to the states, where he felt it belonged constitutionally, and to fight the “plague of drugs engulfing our nation.”

While campaigning in Laurel, Maryland, on May 15, 1972, George Wallace was shot five times by Arthur Bremer. Three others wounded in the shooting also survived. Bremer's diary, published after his arrest as An Assassin's Diary, showed that Bremer's assassination attempt was not motivated by politics, but by a desire for fame, and that President Nixon had been a possible target. The assassination attempt left Wallace paralysed. Following the shooting, Wallace won primaries in Maryland and North Carolina. Despite the outpouring of sympathy for Wallace, McKeithen still beat him in Michigan and Tennessee, winning with a large margin of the blue-collar and Roman Catholic vote.

By the middle of May the remaining primary contests became a slugfest between McGovern on the left and McKeithen on the right, with the center up for grabs. Wallace had been removed by the attempt on his life. McGovern was still leading in delegates, but the contest was getting very close in the remaining industrial and western states.

McKeithen now began to worry the Nixon White House, which spread rumours about the Louisiana governor’s ties to the mafia. Life magazine had printed a series of articles about political corruption in Louisiana in 1969 and 1970, and the ties between elected officials and organized crime. McKeithen himself had not been directly tied to any of these allegations; but he was tarred with guilt-by-association.

McKeithen countered these attacks by pointing out his achievements in creating transparency and ethical accountability in Louisiana state government. “Sure, I know a few crooks; I saw how they did it and then made it harder for them to steal.” He also pointed out that number of organized crime prosecutions undertaken in Louisiana since he became Governor had increased, and that he had worked with the State Attorney General to clean up his state (a compliant Louisiana Attorney General, a McKeithen ally, stepped forward to support McKeithen).

Although McKeithen’s official slogan was “A time for truth,” his signature catch phrase “Won’t you he’p me?” – complete with southern inflection – caught on and became a significant cultural byword for that year, which served to help McKeithen among undecided voters.

By the time of the June 6 primaries McGovern and McKeithen (“M&M” the Republicans dubbed them for “Malcontent and Malfeasant”) were nearly even. McGovern won in California and South Dakota, McKeithen took New Mexico while Shirley Chisholm won in New Jersey.
The two front runners each had a substantial number of delegates, but neither had enough to win the nomination on the first ballot. This meant that the nomination would have to be brokered at the convention in Miami Beach.

Watergate: The Drama Behind Curtain #2

On June 17, 1972 five burglars were arrested at the Democratic national campaign offices located in the Watergate complex in Washington DC. Unknown at the time, but discovered later, was the fact that these five were working for the Nixon White House and that senior administration figures had ordered the burglary as an intelligence gathering exercise.

On June 20, 1972, based on a tip from an anonymous source he named “Deep Throat”, Bob Woodward reported in the Washington Post that one of the burglars had E. Howard Hunt’s name and office number in his address book and possessed checks signed by him, and that Hunt, a former CIA officer, was connected to Charles Colson, a special assistant to President Nixon.

On September 15, 1972 Hunt, together with G. Gordon Liddy, the financial director of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP or CREEP) and the five Watergate burglars were indicted by a federal grand jury. At some point during the autumn burglar James McCord, also a former CIA man, began negotiating a plea deal with federal prosecutors.

Before September 15, Watergate was dismissed as “a second rate burglary” by the Nixon administration, and many in the political establishment accepted this. Only with the indictments of Hunt and Liddy did some political leaders in both parties begin to ask serious questions about what was happening and who was behind the burglary.

“Deep Throat” was FBI official Mark Felt, who handled most of the investigative material related to the Watergate break-in and the subsequent cover-up at the White House. When long-time FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover died on May 2, 1972, Felt became assistant director of the FBI, the #2 spot in the Bureau hierarchy. Soon after President Nixon appointed an outsider (and Nixon partisan), L. Patrick Gray, as acting director of the FBI. Felt believed he was slighted by this move, and harboured a personal grudge against President Nixon for being passed over for the top job (which Felt believed he deserved due to his thirty years of service in the Bureau). As a political appointee, Gray was expected to do Nixon’s bidding. Felt believed this compromised the Bureau and as such was a betrayal of the FBI itself by the President. Felt began leaking details of the on-going investigation and cover-up to Woodward in order to get even with Nixon.

The 1972 Democratic National Convention: The Tempest in the Tropics

The 1972 Democratic National Convention was held from July 10 – 13 at the Miami Beach Convention Center in Miami Beach, Florida. The convention was unusual because of the number of activist and grass root members seated as delegates (and the number of traditional party leaders excluded) and because of the overall contentious nature of what was supposed to be an event to unify the Democratic Party behind its Presidential and Vice Presidential nominees.

This convention was the first to be held under the rules established by the McGovern-Fraser Commission which set guidelines ordering state parties to adopt explicit written Party rules governing delegate selection and implemented eight procedural rules and safeguards, including the prohibition of proxy voting, the end of the unit rule (winner-take-all primaries) and related practices such as instructing delegations, a new quorum requirement of not less than 40 percent at all party committee meetings, the removal of all mandatory assessments of delegates and the cap of mandatory participation fees at $10.

Among the most significant of the changes were new quotas mandating that certain percentages of delegates be women or members of minority groups. As a result of the new rules, subjects that were previously deemed not fit for political debate, such as abortion and gay rights, now occupied the forefront of political discussion.

The new rules for choosing and seating delegates created an unusual number of rules and credentials challenges, which became a battle ground between the McKeithen and McGovern campaigns. Many traditional Democratic groups such as organized labour and big city political machines, which backed McKeithen, had smaller representation at the convention than they were used to. Their supporters challenged the seating of relative political novices, causing open disputes with the supporters of McGovern, who during the presidential primaries had won the most (but not a majority of) delegates to the convention. The matter was complicated by a large number of grass root “novices” in both delegations, who were decidedly put off by the people who represented the other campaign.

Many traditional Democratic leaders and politicians felt that McGovern’s candidacy was an outright risk to the Democratic party 's chances in the November election against Nixon, because they did not reflect the wishes of most Democratic voters, especially in the South and Mid-west. Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter helped to spearhead a "Stop McGovern" campaign which coalesced around the challenger with the next highest delegate count, John McKeithen (although Washington Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson was Carter’s first choice).

The stop-McGovern group tried unsuccessfully to alter the delegate composition of the California delegation. California had a winner-take-all format for its 1972 primary, and McGovern’’s victory gave him all 273 delegates. The stop McGovern group tried to get California’s delegate composition altered so that it would reflect a distribution of delegates in proportion to each candidate’s popular vote. The McGovern campaign protested that this was an attempt to change the rules after the election, and as such it was not only unfair but also illegal. McGovern won on this point.

At the start of the convention the McGovern campaign tired to get Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, and the delegates chosen by him, thrown out of the Democratic convention. McGovern wanted to seat a delegation lead by civil rights activist Jesse Jackson. The McKeithen campaign tired to get Daley’s delegation seated. The resulting fight ended in a draw, and a mixed delegation made up of members from both camps was eventually approved, which lead directly to a divided Illinois delegation with the two camps suspicious of one another.

The first presidential ballot brought the division clearly into focus.

The First Ballot

George McGovern 1139 (37.8%)
John McKeithen 1074 (35.6%)
Henry M. Jackson 311 (10.3%)
George Walace 260 (8.6%)
Shirley Chisholm 78 (2.6%)
Hubert Humphrey 49 (1.6%)
Wilbur Mills 34 (1.1%)
Edmind Muskie 24 (0.8%)
Others 45 (1.4%)
TOTAL 3014

needed to win 1508

A scramble now ensued between the McKeithen and McGovern forces in an effort to woo individual and blocks of delegates to their side. On the second ballot Mayor Daley brought his supporters to McKeithen’s aid.

The Second Ballot

John McKeithen 1424 (47.2%)
George McGovern 1404 (46.6%)
George Wallace 43 (1.4%)
Wilbur Mills 34 (1.1%)
Shirley Chisholm 24 (0.8%)
Edmind Muskie 24 (0.8%)
Hubert Humphrey 14 (0.5%)
Undecided 47 (1.5%)
TOTAL 3014

The second, inconclusive ballot now set in a feeling of panic as some began to wonder if the Democrats could settle on a candidate. The pressure was now to those who were holding out to choose a side in the McKeithen-McGovern confrontation.

Union leaders George Meany and Leonard Woodcock, who up to this point had quietly favoured McKeithen over McGovern (while not necessarily liking either), now let it be known that they were definitely behind McKeithen’s candidacy. Their support was buoyed in part by polls that showed 60% support for Nixon versus 35% for McGovern among rank-and-file Union members. That number changed to 49% McKeithen versus 45% for Nixon. Whether Meany and Woodcock, who each had close working relationship with the Nixon White House, intended (or believed) that McKeithen could beat Nixon is subject to much historical debate. What does seem clear is that they found in McKeithen’s candidacy a potential Democratic challenger to Nixon whom they could use as a bargaining wedge they could use in their negotiations with Nixon over whether they would support of him in the general election. They also felt the need to keep on McKeithen’s good side in the event he actually won.
At this point McKeithen picked-up the support of moderate Texas Democrat Robert Strauss and the influential party elder statesman, former New York Governor Averell Harriman. Both helped to push through McKeithen’s nomination on the third ballot.

House Speaker Carl Albert and House Majority leader Thomas P. O’Neill were also key in assisting McKeithen’s nomination. Both men were from the liberal end of the Democratic Party, and ideologically they were more in sympathy with McGovern. However, both (like a number of other Democratic leaders) recognized that McGovern would be unsuitable as a candidate. They turned to McKeithen as an alternative who had a better chance of winning.

The Third Ballot

John McKeithen 1554 (51.6%)
George McGovern 1421 (47.2%)
Shirley Chisholm 12 (0.4%)
Undecided 27 (0.9%)
TOTAL 3014

In the small hours of the morning the delegates chose John McKeithen as the Democratic nominee. McGovern supporters and a number of liberals staged a noisy walkout in protest.

McKeithen then chose Indiana Senator Birch Bayh as his running mate. Bayh, originally a Democratic candidate himself, had dropped out of the campaign in late 1971 due to his wife’s cancer diagnosis. He was talked into joining the ticket in order to provide ideological and regional balance. Bayh was reluctant, but agreed to allow his name to be entered for the second spot.

The Vice Presidential Ballot

Birch Bayh 1622 (51.2%)
George McGovern 785 (26.0%)
Hubert Humphrey 389 (12.9%)
Others 128 (4.2%)
Non voting 90 (3.0%)
TOTAL 3014

Bayh’s endorsement by the convention was lukewarm at best.

The convention featured further protests and tumult; both nominees were booed from the convention floor by McGovern delegates during their acceptance speeches. During his speech McKeithen made a hand gesture in the direction of one group of hecklers which some interpreted as the raising of his middle finger, although McKeithen and those nearest to him denied that was what he actually did.

In addition to the McKeithen-McGovern contest, the convention also featured a record number of showdowns and floor fights over the contents of the 1972 Democratic platform. Many McGovern supporters and other liberals left the 1972 convention disgusted with the end result, which they considered a “watered down Republican platform.”

The Democrats left their convention deeply divided, which did not bode well for their chances in the General Election. Ominously, there was no post-convention bounce in the polls for the Democratic ticket. Polls showed President Nixon with an average lead of 15%, and this was before the Republican National Convention in August.

Gary Hart, McGovern’s campaign manager summed-up the feeling of many Democrats when he wrote “I just couldn’t understand how this guy nobody had heard of, from a Southern state, with no pervious national experience could have won this. Yet, here he was.”

Watergate: Deepening Throats

Once it became clear that McKeithen and not McGovern would be the Democratic nominee, Felt began leaking material to the Democratic campaign. He later admitted that this is something he never would have done if McGovern had been the Democratic nominee, but he thought McKeithen was a candidate who could replace Richard Nixon as President (or at least make him uneasy during the election), and as such he wanted to assist McKeithen in his challenge to Nixon.

Another source (for the Democrats) first appeared soon after the convention. This was the figure dubbed “Source 2” in the historical literature (or “Sore Throat” as some researchers call him) and he provided the Democrats with a great deal of useful detail about both Watergate and Richard Nixon in general. Unlike Felt, who eventually came forward before his death, “Source 2” has never been identified, in part because he dealt with operatives associated with the McKeithen campaign and not journalists. There has been much speculation over his identity: Alexander Haig (who was Henry Kissinger’s deputy on the National Security Council staff at the time) was a suspect – he was also a top suspect as “Deep Throat” before Felt came forward. L. Patrick Gray, the acting head of the FBI, was another, as was Kissinger himself.

However, many speculations about “Source 2’s” identity center on CIA Director Richard Helms. Helms had been asked by the White House to use the CIA’s influence to block Watergate investigations under the blanket of “national security.” Helms refused to risk his position or that of the CIA by becoming involved in covering up what he characterized as “an amateurish mess.” When he made that clear, the Nixon administration then tried to blackmail him over undisclosed secrets involving the ill-fated 1961 attempt to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. Helms, who did have many secrets to hide from that era, nonetheless became personally outraged at the blackmail attempt. He flatly refused to go along with any White House efforts to deflect Watergate investigations from that point forward, and for that he earned the President’s anger.

But did he, or someone acting on his behalf (considered the more likely scenario), actively try to undermine Nixon’s re-election effort as a result of personal rancour? (Thus the name “Sore Throat” when applied to Helms). Certainly a candidate like McKeithen would have been preferable to the CIA Director than a perceived radical like McGovern, who couldn’t be trusted with national secrets. To the day he died Helms denied doing any such thing.

The CIA had been very active in Louisiana in the early to mid-sixties; New Orleans and the Gulf area had become home to a community of anti-Castro Cubans, and the World Trade Mart in New Orleans became involved in a number of CIA covert activities. In 1979 Richard Helms admitted in Congressional testimony that the Trade Mart’s Director, Clay Shaw, had been a CIA “contact” operating in Latin America during this period. As a Public Service Commissioner and later Governor of Louisiana John McKeithen may well have come into contact with this activity, and proved useful. It was more than likely that he had come across their radar well before 1972.

Unlike Woodward’s source, “Source 2” did not even appear in any of the current news reports or the literature about the 1972 election and Watergate until well after the fact. McKeithen campaign aids first referred to him more than a decade later in their memoirs; and then they did so guardedly for legal reasons. Since those involved would not name him, and his activities were obscured by different leads as to his identity, who exactly it was has never come to light (at least until the last of those involved dies; then perhaps a posthumous revelation will be made).

What remains is that “Source 2” proved to be a gold mine of intelligence for the McKeithen campaign; something which would prove to be a game changer in the election as “Source 2’s” information helped close the net of Watergate around the Nixon White House before election day in November 1972.

The McGovern-McCloskey Peace Ticket

Shortly after his defeat at July’s Democratic convention, Senator McGovern held a series of meetings with California Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey, who had challenged President Nixon in the Republican primaries, running on an anti-war message similar to McGovern’s. Although the two had a number of ideological differences, they were in agreement on the need to end the Vietnam War, and in their belief that neither the Democratic nor Republican Parties had adopted policies toward that end.

Out of the Georgetown Sessions (named for the district of Washington DC where the majority of the organizational meetings took place) during the summer of 1972, McGovern and McCloskey, in conjunction with a number of anti-war, pro-civil rights and anti-poverty activists who were disaffected with the McKeithen nomination agreed to form a third party, or “Peace Party” as an anti-war, anti-poverty ticket.

McGovern and McCloskey presented their ticket as being a bi-partisan challenge to the inaction by the leadership of both political parties in Washington over the Vietnam War and poverty, but from the outset many of McCloskey’s supporters felt that their candidate was overshadowed by the larger group of disaffected Democrats and left-wing social activists who came with McGovern. The anti-war ticket managed to make it on to the ballot in forty-one states, and was effective at organizing the student and urban protest vote in many large cities across the country.

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"Awesome Timeline...Keep it comming."

Thanks. I'm trying to tackle the 1972 election with something fresh; to create ripples at first, then waves further down the line.
The Segretti Affair

On August 11, 1972 a lawyer working for President Nixon’s Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP/”CREEP”) was arrested by Los Angeles Police on a misdemeanour charge involving an attempt to solicit a woman for sexual purposes. The woman, a legal secretary, claimed that Segretti had propositioned her in a hotel lobby. She called police because she had been insulted by him. Segretti denied it had happened.

A police search of his hotel room turned up some forged Democratic National Committee stationary and a quantity of counterfeit money. Segretti, loudly claiming he was framed, was turned over to the Secret Service for questioning.

Coming just ten days before the Republican national convention opened in Miami Beach, the story became a minor sensation, despite a finding by the Secret Service (under pressure from the Nixon White House) that Segretti was an innocent victim of others. Questions were raised about what Segretti was doing with the cash (some legitimate currency was found with the counterfeit) and the exposure ended Segretti’s usefulness to the Nixon campaign.

In 1974 Segretti was charged for creating the forged Canuck Letter, and other forged documents, as part of a “dirty tricks” campaign aimed at discrediting various Democratic candidates. He was sentenced to six months in prison for this activity. Among the forgeries Segretti had authored were fabricated letters implicating Hubert Humphrey and “Scoop” Jackson in sexual improprieties.

At the time, the LA County authorities wanted to press charges against Segretti for solicitation, however the woman withdrew the charges, claiming she didn’t want the publicity. Segretti was restrained from suing her for the same reason by the CRP.

The episode remained a mystery for some time, and came to be regarded as a reverse dirty trick on the part of someone supporting the Democratic campaign, designed to neutralize Segretti. It is now accepted that Segretti was set-up by the woman and that the counterfeit money had been planted in his hotel room. Evidence of who exactly orchestrated it has been ambivalent at best. The woman involved declined to speak with reporters about it before her death in 1991.
Flyers and Letters

The Republican National Convention

The 1972 Republican National Convention was held from August 21 to August 23 at the Miami Convention Center in Miami Beach, Florida (the same location as the Democratic convention one month earlier).

The Republicans had originally intended to hold their convention in San Diego, however Columnist Jack Anderson discovered a memo written by Dita Beard, a lobbyist for International Telephone and Telegraph, suggesting the company pledge $400,000 toward the San Diego bid in return for the U.S. Department of Justice settling its antitrust case against ITT. Fearing a scandal over this, the RNC decided to use the Miami venue instead.

The convention was to be a scripted celebration of Republican unity and the accomplishments of the Nixon Administration. After watching the chaotic Democratic convention in July, the organizers were determined to show the nation a unified party with a positive message as a direct contrast to the Democrats. To that end no dissonant messages were to be allowed, and the re-nomination of Richard Nixon for President and Spiro Agnew for Vice President was to go smoothly and without any objections or floor fights.

Nixon had been challenged in the Republican primaries by Rep. John Ashbrook (R-OH) on the right and Rep. Pete McCloskey (R-CA) on the left. McCloskey had received one delegate in the New Mexico primary. However, prior to the Republican convention, McCloskey had joined with George McGovern to run on the peace platform. The Republican convention managers refused to seat McCloskey’s delegate, and McCloskey himself was barred from the convention. Ashbrook was allowed to speak, but the text of his speech was carefully vetted by the White House before hand, and it ended with an endorsement of Nixon and Agnew’s re-election.

During the course of the convention several flyers appeared which caused a stir among some delegates. These appeared on the convention floor, or under the doors of convention delegates’ hotel rooms.

The first lauded Nixon’s record in de-segregating schools in the South, and referred to President Nixon as the greatest Civil Rights leader of all time. There were comparisons to Abraham Lincoln and a seemingly out of context photo of Nixon speaking with Communist Chinese leader Mao Zedong. As expected, this rankled some white Southern delegates who had joined the Republican Party because of Lyndon Johnson’s drive to desegregate the South. (Nixon did, in fact, achieve more desegregation in schools than his Democratic predecessors, but in keeping with his strategy to win over white Democrats from the South his policy had been done quietly, with as little attention as possible). The photo of Mao was meant to revive the belief among many opponents of the Civil Rights movement that it was inspired by Communists, either domestic or foreign (and suggest Nixon was selling out to them), while the Lincoln reference was meant to ruffle regional resentments dating back to the Civil War. There were some physical altercations between delegates over this flyer.

The second were “$egretti dollars.” “Good for nothing” they proclaimed beneath a photo of Nixon and Agnew. These were a simple provocation, but succeeded in dragging the recent Segretti affair into commentary on the convention.

The third was a recycled photo from the 1968 campaign which showed a pregnant black woman wearing a t-shirt that proclaimed “Nixon’s the one” with no caption. Like the Nixon-Mao flyer this was meant to inflame racist feelings among some delegates.

The fourth was representation of the business card of a Dr. Arnold Hutschnecker, a New York City internist who also had a sub-specialty in psychiatry. The caption read “tricky Dick’s shrink.” This flyer ignited some interest in Dr. Hutschnecker and what the President’s relationship was to him. Nixon had in fact first seen Dr. Hutschnecker for back and neck pain in the 1950’s and later received some psychiatric counselling from him. This was not new information in 1972, although it was not widely known. A rumor was circulated at the convention that the Austrian born Hutschnecker was a Nazi (that was false; Hutschnecker had been anti-Nazi and had fled Austria before World War II to escape the Gestapo). Some reporters began digging into this.

Of all the flyers, the Hutschnecker one, along with The Fake IRS Letters (see below) got to Nixon. “Some bastard is trying to screw me,” he remarked.

Despite the flyers, and on-going anti-war protests outside the convention center (these had plagued the Democrats as well; some of the July protesters had remained in Miami for the month between conventions), the convention went smoothly. Richard Nixon was re-nominated for President unanimously. Manuel Lujan, a New Mexico delegate, had considered casting a vote for McCloskey (as a gesture to the fact that the Republican voters of his state had chosen one McCloskey delegate) but changed his mind when McCloskey joined with McGovern on the Peace ticket.

Vice President Agnew was re-nominated, with one Vice Presidential vote being cast for NBC television newsman David Brinkley.

Sometime later it came out that the McKeithen campaign had arranged for the flyers to be distributed at the Republican convention. They had a number of friends in the Louisiana delegation, and at least one mole on the RNC’s convention staff who assisted them.

The Fake IRS Letters

Around the time of the Republican convention upwards of three hundred phony IRS letters turned up across the country. Each printed on forged IRS stationary, they informed the recipient that they were to be subject to a tax audit at “the direction of the President.” The letters bore the forged signature of IRS Commissioner Johnnie M. Walters.

Recipients included celebrities like John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Jane Fonda and Frank Sinatra. Others went to prominent figures in both political parties. John McKeithen, George McGovern, George Wallace and Richard Daley each received one. Twenty-five senior news figures, including Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Roger Mudd, Ben Bradlee and Katherine Graham each received one.

However, the balance (well over one hundred and fifty) were sent to individual Republican delegates from across the country. These were largely local party workers who made up the rank-and-file of the GOP.

The result was a firestorm of controversy, some of which detracted from the focused coverage of the Republican National Convention. Senior Nixon campaign officials had to sooth the concerns of upset delegates at the convention. John Mitchell was forced to meet with the affected delegates personally and advise them that they were the victims of a “dirty trick.”

Commissioner Walters denounced the letters as fakes and announced an immediate federal investigation, since forging such a document was a crime. However, since they had been mailed from a busy suburban Washington post office (according to the postmark) and had no telltale fingerprints (other than those of the recipients and various postal employees who handled them) there was little for IRS or Postal Inspectors to go on.

Several of the journalists involved, or their news organizations, also dug into this episode. From their inquiries they elicited a comment from former IRS Commissioner Randolph Thrower (1969 – 1971) that the Nixon White House had asked him to supply tax information on selected individuals during his tenure. He couldn’t say who in particular they were after because no list of names had been given to him. He had refused to do it, saying that such a request was improper.

Thrower’s comment deflected the controversy, as a number of news outlets and some Democratic Senators wanted to know whose tax information the White House had wanted to examine. The White House refused to answer that. Current Commissioner Walters said that he had received no such requests, and repeated Thrower’s observation that such a request would be improper.

The fact that the IRS letters were written on forged stationary brought to mind the forged DNC letterhead that had been found in Donald Segretti’s hotel room, and lead to more questions about the CRP’s activities.

The Democrats didn’t get off the hook either; they were logical suspects, and reporters asked pointed questions of McKeithen’s senior campaign officials. They denied any knowledge of it, pointing out that both McKeithen and his campaign manager, Billy Boles, had been recipients of the letters themselves.

“This is a smear cooked-up in some twisted mind to try and make us look bad. I’d call this one a Segretti dollar,” Boles commented.

Absent any proof, there was nothing to tie the McKeithen campaign to this. Many reporters thought it unlikely that the McKeithen campaign would do something which would so obviously point back to them.
The Hayride begins: Late summer, early autumn

The McKeithen Campaign Strategy

The fracturing of the Democratic Party seemed, at least on the surface, to guarantee President Nixon’s re-election in the general election, as reflected by his twenty point lead over McKeithen in the polls taken just after the Republican convention. When McGovern decided to run as a third party peace candidate, he had started to attract many of his core supporters from the primaries. This initially seemed to weaken the Democrats by undercutting their base.

John McKeithen and his managers thought otherwise. They had constructed a voting model based on extensive polling and voter research that broke down the electorate into, roughly, 40% committed Republican, 40% committed Democrat and 20% undecided (with variables according to each state, including state-by-state polls indicating how undecided voters in each state to lean). Of the committed Democrats McKeithen’s analysts detected a split of around 10% to McGovern and 30% to himself, based on preference polling. 1972 was going to be first Presidential election to allow 18 – 20 year olds to vote, and most of these voters were expected to go to McGovern (especially in States with a high concentration of college students), although a substantial number in the more conservative parts of the country had a Nixon preference, which could be a problem for McKeithen. To win McKeithen had to hold onto the 30% Democratic stalwart base, draw in a substantial number of the 20% undecided group, and win over at least some of the 40% of stalwart Republicans who had, or could be persuaded to have, doubts about Nixon. McCloskey’s primary campaign (which had peaked with 20% of the vote in New Hampshire) proved they were there, and could be key in a close race. Due to the unorthodox nature of McKeithen’s campaign, he even entertained ideas of picking up some of the three hundred thousand Republicans who had voted for Ashbrook in the primaries.

McGovern’s third party ticket represented an opportunity for McKeithen’s campaign to rid itself of the more radical and left-liberal elements associated with the Democratic Party. In one fell swoop he could disassociate himself from any hint of radicalism while at the same time spreading his appeal in the center and the right.

Nixon’s campaign strategy had been apparent from the Republican convention. The President was going to run on his record of accomplishments; very little of the convention had been reserved for specifically Republican partisan causes. The banishing of McCloskey and muzzling of Ashbrook showed that the push was going to be focused on one “Nixon for America.” This would celebrate the President at the expense of diminishing the Party. To gain Nixon inclined voters McKeithen was going to have to wrong foot this, while at the same time avoiding the inevitable attacks from the Republicans.

Nixon operatives were already busy trying to paint the former Louisiana governor as a crook and an untrustworthy character. Images of the Long brothers (Huey and Earl), notorious for their corrupt patronage in Louisiana politics and idiosyncratic public behavior (Earl Long had been committed during his last term as Governor), were brought out to tar McKeithen by association. The Life magazine articles on corruption in Louisiana were brought out again, and all manner of dark hints were leaked that the IRS files contained all sorts of unsavoury information about McKeithen. (A side benefit was that the Nixon campaign’s attacks on the state of Louisiana as a haven of corrupt politics, and the smearing of two public icons in the state, helped to guarantee that McKeithen’s carrying of his home state).

As much as he could, McKeithen let McGovern and Nixon fight each other over the Vietnam War. McGovern wanted to end it, while Nixon spoke of ending it with “honor.” McGovern repeatedly claimed that Nixon’s four years in office, during which he had escalated fighting to neighboring countries, proved that his rhetoric about peace was a lie. “Vietnamization” of the war, which had reduced but not eliminated US involvement in the war; McGovern denounced it as a halfway step from “chaos” to “chaos”. McKeithen was “for our soldiers” and for “de-escalation”, but surprisingly vague on the biggest foreign policy issue of the election. He did hint on several occasions that Nixon’s policy had as much drift as Johnson’s, and that Vietnamization wasn’t working because the South Vietnamese government was too corrupt to stand on its own.

McKeithen’s approach for the moment was to ‘bring fresh eyes to the problem.” He was quick to point out that U.S. involvement in Vietnam had started under the Eisenhower-Nixon administration, and that Nixon’s “new approach” hadn’t been that new when he took office in 1969. This was all wrapped into McKeithen’s image as a “fresh face” and Washington outsider.

McKeithen minimized the McGovern campaign and mentioned it as little as possible: when he did he dismissed McGovern as “the hippie candidate” and “a complainer who can’t accept losing fair and square.”

McKeithen attacked Nixon for letting the Pentagon papers leak, suggesting that the President and his national security staff were poor keepers of sensitive national security secrets. By the end of September this drifted from the specifics of Vietnam to question whether the security leaks coming out of the White House were in fact examples of the Nixon White House trying to manipulate foreign policy for domestic benefit (infuriating Nixon who had been trying to squelch the leaks since taking office).

McKeithen focused his campaign message on what he had accomplished for his state, put succinctly as jobs, economic growth and a better record on civil rights than some Southern Governors. McKeithen proclaimed that he wanted to “solve everyday problems for the American people” if elected. His earned income tax credit, his educational tax credit and his programs for helping small business – ‘the engine of America” were prime features of his speeches. In true populist fashion McKeithen attacked corporate profits as excessive, and characterised the Nixon years as “a bonanza for the rich.” This was accompanied by tables and graphs showing how much large corporate donors to the Republican Party, and government contractors, had made in the years 1969 – 1971, versus the more modest average increase in working class and middle class incomes. He never hesitated to remind audiences that Nixon had been a corporate attorney from 1960 -1967.

”Looks like he’s still earning his big corporate law fees, don’t it?”

“Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” was McKeithen’s rhetorical question.

Hinting at the IRS letters controversy, McKeithen would often open his speeches with, “Have you paid your taxes?”

The McKeithen-Bayh strategy focused on “middle America” (a.k.a. “the silent majority”) and drew as its inspiration McKeithen’s own observations during the Democratic primaries. Many of middle class Americans he’d met were sick of the turmoil of the nineteen sixties, and felt that liberal politics and mismanagement in Washington had lead to social turmoil, an Asian war which was like a festering sore that wouldn’t heal, and a general sense that the country had gone in the wrong direction since Eisenhower had left office (or JFK had been killed, according to their preference). Nixon was popular, but only in so much as he had “nomralized” things after the turbulent years of the Great Society. But Nixon’s position was strong, but not unassailable. McKeithen played on the contrasts between them; specifically that Nixon had spent his career as either a Washington politician or a New York corporate lawyer (he deliberately played-up the East Coast resentment in the mid-west) while he, McKeithen, had been a state legislator, public service commissioner and governor working to create jobs and a better life for people “just like you.” Like Harry Truman, he wanted to bring government back to caring for the little man.

“Travelling to China to settle down with Mao is alright, don’t get me wrong, I’m the first to applaud our President for his bold courage, but what about (place where he was)? Don’t you deserve our President’s attention as well? Devaluing our money by going off the gold standard helped out bankers on Wall Street, and in London and Germany. What about you? What’s Mr. Nixon done for you lately? What’s he done to you lately?”

Vice Presidential candidate Birch Bayh, who often campaigned with a mid-western self-depricating manner which was meant to convey a “one of us” humility was sent around the country to reinforce the main message. Since he also had a liberal and organized labor following of his own, Bayh was also employed in winning over voters in these groups as well. Bayh’s good natured style was also meant to serve as a direct contrast to the sharper, “attack dog” style employed by Spiro Agnew (who in the beginning campaigned more than the President did)

Bringing out the “real Nixon”

McKeithen’s average man campaign did force Nixon to explain himself, and to do that he was forced to campaign more than he had intended. Far from remaining the aloof President above the fray, Nixon now had to get into the trenches and explain use his own biography as defence of his presidency. He couldn’t accuse McKeithen of being a flaming radical – that was McGovern. The accusation that McKeithen was a crook were backfiring because no one could prove that John McKeithen had done anything dishonest while governor; the more they persisted, the more they tended to disprove the smear Nixon’s people were trying to promote.

Nixon returned to a theme that his presidency had represented the ordinary, “American values” of the “silent majority” and that he had stood firm for citizens against big money interests (i.e. Nixon for America). Along the way he had made America more secure by gaining new respect from their Cold War adversaries, which proved Nixon’s leadership qualities.

However, in explaining himself and standing on his record, Nixon put himself squarely in the cross-hairs of the McKeithen campaign, which planned to win by tearing Nixon apart.

Deconstructing Richard Nixon had been an early idea of McKeithen’s circle going back to 1971. As the campaign gained momentum through the summer, more attention was paid to this aspect. A “sixty-five committee” was formed (the name was a coded reference to Nixon’s five o’clock shadow which had been so prominent in his 1960 television debate with John Kennedy) to develop in-depth psychological profiles of President Nixon and the people around him. These were then implemented through the campaign to hit Nixon’s “hot buttons,” and in so doing force him over on the defensive and keep him there. Some of the targeted “dirty tricks” came out of this groups deliberations.

August 23, 1972

The Republican convention closes with Nixon-Agnew having a 20% lead in the polls over McKeithen-Bayh (50% to 30%, 4% for McGovern, 16% undecided).

August 29, 1972

The Chairman of Senate Government Operations Committee, Sen. Sam Ervin (D-NC), announces that his committee will begin an investigation into the “strange events” that are going on surrounding the Republican National Convention and the IRS letters. Republicans at first decry this move as a pre-election stunt, but subsequently agree to co-operate with Ervin.

August 30, 1972

Several reporters from The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times receive background information that John Mitchell, while serving as Attorney General, controlled a secret Republican fund used to finance intelligence-gathering against the Democrats. Part of this money was used to pay the Watergate burglars. The background information is supplied by allies of the Democratic campaign; the original source of the documentation is thought to be “Source 2”. Some reporters involved with this begin to suspect that there is a parallel, secret investigation into the Watergate burglary being conducted from somewhere within the government.

The same day Governor George Wallace files papers to have nine Electors pledged to him appear on the Alabama ballot along with the other slates. Wallace, still recovering from his gunshot wound, is in no condition to mount a national campaign. However, by this move he hopes to revive the old Dixiecrat manuever (last used in 1960) of having non-candidate Electoral votes for his state. Wallace hopes to use these to place him in a reignmaker’s position should it be a close election.

September 1, 1972

Several newspapers run a front page story about Nixon’s relationship with Dr. Arnold Hutschnecker. Hutschnecker confirms that Nixon has been his patient, but will offer no more details on the matter. Much is made of the fact that Hutschnecker is a psychiatrist; and an anonymous source at the White House confirms that the Doctor has been to see Nixon at the White House twice since he was elected President. The stories give an accurate account of Hutschnecker’s background, debunking the Nazi myth.

September 2 – 5, 1972

Over the Labor Day long weekend the Nixon-Mao flyer first seen at the Republican convention is published as a campaign advertisement in a number of newspapers across the Southern United States. The nominal backer is the “Democrats for Nixon Committee,” however its chairman, former Texas Governor and Nixon Treasury Secretary John Connally, denied placing the ads. The original contact information proved to be an empty office in Dallas, Texas. Most ads were paid for by postal money orders or cheques drawn on accounts set-up in the name of sub-groups purporting to belong to the Democrats for Nixon Committee. Connally suspects the Democrats used his organization to stir-up white sentiment in the South against Nixon. Some Republicans believe Connally has double-crossed them. According to his Oval Office tapes, President Nixon believes this and uses a series of foul explicatives to describe a man he had held high regard before this episode. (He had seriously considered having Connally replace Agnew as his running mate.)

John McKeithen denied any knowledge of the flyers, but congratulates President Nixon on his success with the issue of desegregation.

Coverage of this event was minimal as it was overshadowed by the Olympic massacre in Munich.

September 7, 1972

Harris and Gallup both show a five point decline in Nixon’s support over the Labor Day weekend. The decline is attributed to the Hutschnecker story and a reaction in the South to the Nixon-Mao flyers. (Nixon 45%, McKeithen 32%, McGovern 4%, 19% undecided)

Sen. Russell B. Long (D-LA), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee (which has authority over tax issues) indicates that his committee will investigate the finanical reporting of the Republican CRP, as well as the source of contributions.

September 12, 1972

A press conference is held at which former Louisiana Teamster executive Edward Partin accuses former Governor McKeithen of being a crook. Partin makes vague allegations about the former Governor taking pay-offs from the Teamsters and the mob. Partin is best known as the Teamsters Union official whose testimony helped convict former Teamsters President James R. Hoffa of jury tampering a decade earlier.

September 14, 1972

After initial checks, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times run the “Mitchell slush fund” story, showing a trend of corruption in the Nixon campaign. (Nixon himself is not named as having been linked to this activity).

In response to Partin’s press conference two days before , Aaron Kohn, the Director of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission, makes a statement to the effect that Partin’s charges are unproven. “We have no evidence of corruption on the part of Governor McKeithen.”

Democratic spokespeople make the point that Partin is currently under indictment for extortion charges, and wonder openly if his testimony has been bought through some kind of deal with federal prosecutors. Partin afterall, “is a known and proven liar, swindler and crook.”

September 16, 1972

Sen. Ervin announced that he would call John Mitchell, Frank Malek, Jeb Magruder, Francis Dale, Kenneth Dahlberg, Maurice Stans, Hugh Sloan, James McCord, Gordon Liddy, Donald Segretti and Charles Colson to testify before his committee.

To keep the hearings balanced Ervin also calls Larry O'Brien, Billy Boles and a number of other Democratic campaign officials before his committee as well.

The White House replied that Ervin was on a witch hunt for partisan political purposes. Then, at Nixon’s instruction, the administration invoked executive privilege to block testimony by Mitchell and Colson. Democrats responded to the claims of executive privilege with a “What’s Tricky Dick got to hide?” campaign.

In response Sen. Ervin uttered a line that was to become a Democratic campaign slogan over the next two months. He said, “this whole thing has gotten out of control.” Along the way the line morphed into “Nixon has gotten out of control,” which made reference to the Hutschnecker controversy

September 19, 1972

The Washington Post ran a story that alleged that the FBI had tapped the phone of Morton Helprin, an associate of Kissinger’s on the National Security Council. The illegal tap had been carried out to determine whether or not Helprin, a friend of Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, was passing national security secrets to the press. It had proved that Helprin wasn’t the source of leaks, at least not on the office and home telephone lines that the FBI had tapped.

This created a new uproar, especially given that the Watergate burglars had been caught with telephone tapping equipment. The White House denied involvement, but the Post’s information was solid. (It had been leaked to Bob Woodward by Mark Felt with the intent of turning up the heat on Nixon and drawing Kissinger [who had requested the wiretaps] into the election controversies. Felt could feel safe in passing this on because Director Hoover, who had ordered the taps had died in May, and the FBI executive who oversaw it, William Sullivan, had been sacked by Hoover in October 1971. Sullivan, who was named in the Post article soon found himself on Ervin’s subpoena list. Unlike some of the others on that list, Sullivan was ready and willing to talk.

The Peace Campaign

Senator George McGovern’s essential focus was that McKeithen and Nixon represented the same thing; meaning that they cancelled each other out. His campaign platform rested essentially on ending the war in Vietnam, implementing a guaranteed minimum income for every American, passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and an amnesty for draft dodgers. The Peace platform also included an assortment of pro-ecology proposals, federally mandated protection of a woman’s right to access abortion services, and aggressive civil rights enforcement, including school busing, and increased affirmative action programs.

Though Pete McCloskey had sided with McGovern on the Vietnam war issue, and the pro-ecology and right to choose planks in the platform were also his, McGovern’s nominal running mate became disenchanted with the third party pairing as the campaign progressed. By the end of September he started to drop from view, giving fewer speeches and attending no campaign events.

McGovern never got over 7% support in the national polls, and that was heavily concentrated in areas where there were large numbers of college age voters. Some of the anti-poverty and civil rights organizers who had joined with him organized pro-McGovern get out the vote campaigns in a number of urban areas across America, which had a minor effect on his poll numbers. They did succeed in raising McGovern’s overall vote but, with the notable exception of Washington D.C., they had only a small effect on the election result.

It was only in the Vietnam War debate (helped by the fact that McKeithen avoided it) that McGovern was punching above his weight, in terms of media coverage. As a result many of his supporters had a tendency to think the third party campaign was doing better than it actually was with ordinary voters.


McKeithen demanded a televised debate with Nixon, as had occurred in 1960. Candidate Richard Nixon had ducked the idea when Hubert Humphrey had called for it during the 1968 election, mainly because Nixon carried bitter memories of that one 1960 televised debate in which he had done poorly against John Kennedy (among those who watched it); he blamed that for losing the 1960 campaign. As a sitting President, Nixon was even less inclined to debate a challenger, and refused to debate McKeithen.

While Nixon was slipping in the polls, mainly as McKeithen gained traction with an economic and “down home” message, he was still out front by ten points as September turned into October, so he declined to debate the Democratic challenger. This gave McKeithen the opportunity to be photographed standing next to an empty podium with the caption “what’s he afraid to talk about?”

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Hmmm...I guess all were waiting on now is to see if McKeithen is able to draw Nixon into a debate, maybe if McGovern starts asking for one as well...The White House might feel compelled to capitulate but I tend to doubt it. Either way its going to be a hella close election...Any chance we can get polling by state? Keep it comming
Nixon in the crosshairs

October 2, 1972

October began with a slight improvement in poll standings for all three candidates. An aggregate of national polls showed Nixon at 48%; McKeithen at 37%; McGovern at 6% and undecided at 9%

Nixon’s small bump in the polls was credited with a feeling of public sympathy for the personal trials he seemed to be experiencing at the hands of devious subordinates: potential Nixon voters blamed any alleged wrong-doing by the Republicans either on unscrupulous subordinates or Democrat exaggeration.

McKeithen’s gain was identified as coming mostly from rank-and-file Union members (see below) and some gains in the South, where the idea of a Southern candidate making a serious challenge for the Presidency was finally catching on and rousing some regional spirit. There may have been some residual effect among some white voters from the Nixon-Mao advertisement. George Wallace and his surrogates were continuing to use it in his Alabama campaign against Nixon.

McKeithen and his running mate Sen. Birch Bayh also spent considerable time building support among traditional Democratic Party power brokers; people like Chicago Mayor Richard Daley who had felt the brunt of the McGovern-Fraser Commission changes at the Democratic convention. As Election day came closer, this stroking of the traditional grass roots was helping to inch their campaign higher in the polls.

McGovern was benefiting from a voter drive being conducted on college campuses and in inner city communities by his supporters, although this was harder to measure accurately. Inner city voters were notoriously resistant to communicating frankly with pollsters about their voting intentions.

Pollsters also found that the Hutschnecker controversy was helping Nixon. As one respondent put it: “Being President is a tough job, you gotta feel for the guy. So he talks to a shrink? Better than talking to the walls, right?”

Nixon read this and other comments like it and drew from it that the press was trying to make him look crazy, which further darkened his mood.

Meany commits

AFL-CIO President George Meany had been toying with the McKeithen campaign ever since the Democratic convention in July, largely as strategy to ensure that the Nixon administration didn’t organized labor’s interests for granted. Even so, his relations with President Nixon ran hot and cold over the next two months. As Meany would later write:

George Meany said:
"Nixon was smart and sharp in a lot of ways, but he didn’t have balance. There was something missing there… I never had any faith in him, never trusted him, never had any confidence in him as an individual. You got to know Nixon and he was shifty, he was real tricky" George Meany and His Times Simon & Schuster c.1981, p.276

On October 3 Meany officially endorsed the McKeithen-Bayh ticket, as the team “that will stand up for American workers.” Reportedly, Meany was still ambivalent about McKeithen’s record, but decided that he was better than Nixon.

Both McKeithen and Bayh addressed AFL-CIO meetings shortly afterward, committing the Democratic ticket to promoting the interests of “working Americans.”

The UAW had already come out for McKeithen in late September.

Organized labor was not unified however: The Teamsters and the United Brewery Workers endorsed Nixon. The United Farm Workers endorsed McGovern.

The Ervin Hearings

Sen. Sam Ervin’s hearings from October 3 - 26 into the campaign’s “funny business” became something of a spectacle. Many of the Nixon campaign officials called before the Senate Government Operations committee stonewalled the questioners, some with open contempt. Segretti called them hypocrites and launched into a denunciation of Democratic Party dirty tricks. A glowering John Mitchell didn’t bother to hide his hostility and pointedly refused to answer questions. Gordon Liddy (who was charged in the Watergate burglary case) pleaded the fifth, at which point some press coverage compared the committee hearings to earlier probes of the mafia.

James McCord also tried to plead the fifth; but during his testimony it came out that he was involved in plea negotiations with the prosecutors over the Watergate burglary. With his ability to claim the fifth compromised by this, he pointed to Liddy and Mitchell as the people he reported to. During his testimony Mitchell called McCord a liar.

John Connally of the Democrats for Nixon Committee repeated that his organization had nothing to do with the Nixon-Mao flyer blitz of Labor Day; “someone used us; they set us up.” A James S. Faraday was identified as a person of interest in that matter, but effort to locate Faraday quickly uncovered that he was a phantom, and the name most likely an alias. Ervin said that he believed Connally’s denial. On his tapes Nixon made it clear that he did not: he felt that a friend had betrayed him and it drove him to strong language and violent thoughts about his former Treasury Secretary.

Democratic campaign officials for the most part denied knowing about the flyers at the Republican National Convention (“it was their convention after all; I’d say one of their own did it.”) and the forged IRS letters.

The shocker was William C. Sullivan, the FBI’s former assistant director of intelligence, who had been fired by the late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in 1971. Sullivan’s New York Times obituary described him "the only liberal Democrat ever to break into the top ranks of the bureau," and his testimony on October 19 and 20, 1972 went a long way to proving that. What he said was all the more damning to Nixon because he had been appointed to another high level federal position by President Nixon after Hoover’s death.

Sullivan confirmed, from personal knowledge, that Henry Kissinger had, using the President’s authority, authorized FBI Director Hoover to place illegal wiretaps on the office and home phones of Morton Halperin from 1969 through to 1971 (continuing two years after Halperin left the NSC staff) in connection to the leaking to The New York Times of classified information about Operation Menu - (see below). He believed, but could not personally confirm, that the Watergate burglars had been up to the same kind of activity on behalf of the White House when they broke into Democratic National Committee chairman Lawrence O’Brien’s office.

Near the end of his testimony, Sullivan also let slip during his testimony the 1968 October Surprise, which received its first public airing.

More than any other revelation (at the time) Sullivan’s revelations about Operation Menu and the 1968 Nixon campaign activity caught public attention in the final two-and-one half weeks of the 1972 campaign.

The 1968 October Surprise

This amounted to an allegation that during the 1968 Presidential election the Nixon campaign had communicated -through various intermediaries- a message to South Vietnamese President Thieu that he should refuse to participate in any peace negotiations with the North Vietnamese in the Fall of 1968. At the time the Johnson Administration was trying to arrange peace talks in Paris between the parties, in part to scale back the Vietnam War, and in part to bolster the chances of Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s presidential campaign. Thieu was already angry with President Johnson for opening negotiations with the North Vietnamese regime without consulting him, and was promised increased aid by a Republican administration. For that reason Thieu agreed to publicly denounce LBJ’s last peace initiative, and the Nixon campaigns initiative had ended any hope of a “peace bounce” for Humphrey prior to the November 1968 vote.

Sullivan told the committee that FBI security surveillance of the South Vietnamese Ambassador in Washington, Bui Diem, had picked-up on this activity and that it had been reported to the Johnson administration. Sullivan could not authoritatively speak as to what was done with the information.

In the days that followed Clark Clifford, Secretary of Defense in 1968 and a close adviser of LBJ, and former President Johnson both confirmed for the first time that the incident occurred. Both said they had kept it quiet at the time to “protect national security on a sensitive issue”, but that LBJ had taken candidate Nixon to task for the activity. After Clifford and Johnson confirmed Sullivan’s allegation for the record, former Vice President current Senator Hubert Humphrey confirmed that he had been made aware of the matter at the time, but had agreed with Clifford and Johnson that the matter was too sensitive to leak during the negotiations.

Confirming Sullivan’s remarks was the only intervention former President Johnson made in the 1972 election, other than to offer his support to John McKeithen and Birch Bayh shortly after their nomination in July. Clifford had become something of an eminence grise for the Democratic campaign, having remained remained in the background up until this point. (He also became a suspect as Source 2.

Operation Menu

The revelation of Operation Menu became another sensation in its own right. Operation Menu was the codename of a covert USAF bombing campaign conducted in eastern Cambodia from 18 March 1969 until 26 May 1970. The supposed targets of these attacks were sanctuaries and bases of the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong guerilla force, which utilized them for resupply, training, and resting between campaigns across the border in South Vietnam. The actual bombing was indiscriminate and thousands of civilians were killed. These civilians, mostly Cambodians, were citizens of a neutral third country in which many of the targets were located.

Op. Menu had been mentioned once in a 1969 New York Times article which was largely ignored. At the time Nixon was furious that the secret operation had leaked, and he and Kissinger had suspect Halperin, and Kissinger had asked Hoover to tap his office and home telephones as a result.

Although the Pentagon would not at first confirm whether the secret bombings had taken place, a little digging by the press confirmed it. The exposure gave fresh credence to the idea that the Nixon Administration had been lying about the degree of its involvement in Vietnam and, contrary to the policy of Vietnamization (turning the war over to South Vietnam), it appeared to be escalating U.S. involvement, while concealing the truth from the American people. The revelation of Op. Menu so abruptly lead to further questions about the Nixon administration’s involvement in the 1970 coup in Cambodia which had lead to the installation of a pro-US military government. None of this inspired a sense that Nixon was trying to end the war, as he repeatedly claimed. McGovern called the President “no more honest than a tinhorn gambler, and about as trustworthy.”

A further consequence of the Op. Menu publicity was a related revelation that five senior members of Congress, Senators John C. Stennis (MS) and Richard B. Russell, Jr. (GA) and Representatives Lucius Mendel Rivers (SC), Gerald R. Ford (MI), and Leslie C. Arends (IL), had know about this, and that none of them had questioned the propriety of the activity.

Sullivan’s motives

A number of Republicans, including the minority members of Ervin’s committee, were quick to question Sullivan’s motives in making these revelations. For many Republicans it was a partisan smear, and they accused Sullivan of angling for the FBI Director’s job under a Democratic administration. (Some went so far as to call Sullivan a traitor and demand his prosecution for revealing state secrets.)

More objective observers gave greater weight to what Sullivan said, observing that, without immunity, Sullivan was opening himself up to charges on some of the wiretap activity. He wouldn’t do this just to gain a federal office because it would be self-defeating.

There seems to have been an element of grandstanding by Sullivan, along with a desire on his part to publicly blacken J. Edgar Hoover’s reputation. Though he worked for the Nixon administration, he evidently had turned on it as well. Perhaps, like Mark Felt, Sullivan felt slighted when the FBI Directorship went to an outsider after Hoover’s death. Also, knowing his federal career was over, he may have been feathering his nest for a possible tell all expose.

Pointedly, he made no mention of his involvement in the 1960’s bugging of the civil rights movement or the illegal COINTELPRO domestic intelligence program he directed at Hoover’s behest. His coming forward may have been part of an effort to blackmail former Kennedy and Johnson administration officials who had been aware of this activity, as a measure to protect himself when Richard Nixon’s administration fell.

Sullivan himself said that he “only wanted to clear-up the record.” He did sell a lot of books as a result, and he was never charged with any illegal activity. His testimony put him near the top of the suspect list as being “Source 2.” Sullivan died (or was killed) before “Source 2” came to light, and therefore never commented on the allegation.

”He’s cracking up!”

In the days leading up to the election Nixon began to slide in the polls; the aggregate result just before the election was McKeithen at 44%, Nixon at 43% (a fivex point slide for Nixon; and a statistical dead heat between the two major candidates); McGovern at 7% and 6% still undecided. Nixon’s slide came after Sullivan’s testimony before the Ervin Committee, and during the period of President Nixon’s personal reaction to them.

While the Ervin Committee hearings were a blow to Nixon, nothing that came out at this stage necessarily undermined his re-election campaign. Ervin had made little headway on the Watergate burglary, other than to get James McCord to confirm that he was plea bargaining and that he accused Nixon’s campaign manager, former Attorney General and Nixon’s personal friend John Mitchell, of directing it. Mitchell had a lot to explain, including some intricate financial transactions (which he defended in combative testimony before Sen. Long’s committee), but none of this reflected on Nixon personally. Many voters accepted this as “politics as usual.”

The White House adopted the position that the 1968 October Surprise was a misrepresentation by the Democrats of what had been nothing more than a fact finding project on the part of Nixon’s 1968 campaign. Op. Menu was harder to get around, but the administration defended it as part of the President’s activities to bring the war to an end by denying the enemy “use of neutral base from which to attack our forces.”

Had Richard Nixon kept his cool he might have come out on top. Instead it got to him. His tapes reveal that he was drinking heavily and privately lashing out at everybody from the late John Kennedy, to McKeithen, Sullivan, Connally, Ervin and even Pope Paul VI.

In public Nixon’s mask dropped on several occasions when he snarled at the press in response to questions about the Ervin committee. Nixon openly called one reporter a “son of a bitch” for bringing it up at a campaign event, and at another gave a haranguing lecture to the press about their responsibility to be impartial: his surly, snappy manner in that episode recalled his 1962 “you’ll won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore” speech, given a decade earlier when he lost the California gubernatorial election. Nixon’s public utterance brought that back into the current news coverage. It was an unflattering view of the President immediately before the election, and his handlers quickly moved to cover it by keeping Nixon away from the press in the last critical days of the election. On the other hand his many supporters cheered him on because they agreed with his view of the accusations, and they became grist for stirring-up the Republican base.

McGovern said of the president “He’s cracking up!” He also lambasted the Nixon administration over its “secret Gestapo” and the outright lies and cover-ups associated with Vietnam. “Tricky Dick is foisting one lie after another on the American people. Isn’t it past time to stop him?

McGovern called for debate between the three candidates. McKeithen said that he was still willing to debate President Nixon; he made no mention of McGovern, all but dismissing him as a non-factor. Nixon was still adamant his refusal to debate, and his close aides were by this point unwilling to expose him to one.

It was left to Vice President Agnew to make campaign addresses and use more of his well known barbs against the Democrats.

"They offer nothing but a Gumbo of crookery, contemptibility and credulity."; "From Louisiana we have the nattering nobody whose for nothing."; "If you ever meet the Governor, keep one hand on your wallet."

John McKeithen tried to maintain the high road, focusing instead on his campaign proposals and the need to bring “fresh thinking” to Washington, now more than ever. “Nothing sweeps clean like a new broom.”

Much as he had tried to remain above the fray on Vietnam during the campaign, in the last weeks McKeithen was forced to comment directly about the War, in part because reporters were asking him about a Nixon campaign charge that McKeithen wasn’t ready to be President because he lacked both foreign policy and national political experience.

”I fought the Japanese in the Pacific,” McKeithen responded, “so I’ve been where our fighting men are. I’ve had the bullets coming at me; I’ve watched good friends die in my arms. I understand war in a way Mr. Nixon, who has never seen combat, cannot. If elected I won’t have the United States cut-and-run from Vietnam; that would destroy our credibility as a great power. But things have to change."

”What you have in Vietnam is a corrupt, tin-pot dictatorship that’s hanging on by its nails. All that our brave boys have done, all that they’ve sacrificed, can’t change that. Until there’s a fundamental change in the kind of government South Vietnam has, we’re not going to get anywhere. President Nixon, like Presidents before him, seems to be blind to that point.”

Reporter: ”So what would you do, Governor?”

”I’d say to President Thieu we need to make real changes, we need to clean-up your act. And I’d say we’ve got to stop the Communists, but we’re not going to do that by expanding the war to other countries or just by bombing. We are going to have to sit down and talk with the Communists, and we are going to have to put the power of the United States behind ending the war, the right way.”

Reporter:”What’s the right way?”

”Clean-up South Vietnam, make it clear that the United States will not stand by and allow a Communist take-over, but also make it clear that the war can’t go on like it is and that we have to negotiate, but from strength. I’ll make this commitment too. If elected, I will sit down with a duly empowered representative of the North Vietnamese government to see what can be worked out. I’m not afraid to talk to them face-to-face. If he wants to call me names, that’s fine. Bad names are better than bullets any day.”

McGovern called this more of the same: Nixon's spokesman called it appeasement.

President Thieu reacted with a heated denunciation of the “insults” Governor McKeithen had heaped on his regime. “At least President Nixon understands the realities of the world. I don’t regret helping him in 1968, he is a great leader. This other man, he is a fool.” Thieu’s reference to 1968 seemed, once analysts looked at it, to confirm the 1968 October Surprise allegation. Editorial writers around the country wondered, “How else could President Thieu have helped Nixon in 1968?”

One of the last Democratic television ads to air before the election highlighted McKeithen’s work as governor in bringing a code of ethics and an openness law to his state. “I helped make Louisiana a better place for all our citizens; next Tuesday I’d like to do the same for you and your family. Won’t you he’p me?”(Against the pleasing backdrop of his family at his modest home in small town Columbia, Louisiana)
Tuesday, November 7, 1972

The election result was as close as the final polls indicated that it would be, although the outcome could not be authoritatively established until the early morning hours of Thursday, November 9.

The Electoral College Vote as projected by the vote count on Election Day was:

McKeithen-Bayh 266
Nixon-Agnew 260
Wallace-Maddox 9
McGovern-McCloskey 3

The Popular Vote result was:

McKeithen-Bayh 35,777,351 (45.7%)*
Nixon-Agnew 35,755,783 (45.7%)
McGovern-McCloskey 4,920,696 (6.3%)
Wallace-Maddox 426,494 (0.6%)
Others 1,331,423 (1.7%)

TOTAL 78,211,746

(*percentages rounded)

McKeithen’s popular margin over Nixon was 21,568 votes, or 0.03% of all votes cast.

Immediately apparent was the fact that the election would be cast into the Congress unless either the McKeithen or Nixon campaigns could make a deal with Wallace and/or McGovern. Election Day thus did not represent an end to the 1972 Presidential election; rather it closed one chapter and opened up the next. That would include court challenges to the result in a number of states where the result had been very close.

Post game analysis

The popular vote results for Richard Nixon and John McKeithen reflected their standings in the last polls taken before the election. McKeithen had chipped away at Nixon’s once formidable lead by energizing traditional Democratic supporters and making himself attractive to some undecided voters. To the extent that the polls were capable of measuring it, he was less successful in winning wavering Republicans away from Nixon. Given a few more weeks he may have achieved this and won the election outright. (A shift of 1,949 votes in Iowa would have put McKeithen over 270 Electoral Votes need to win.)

Nixon’s public outbursts at the close of the campaign, together with the revelations of William Sullivan before the Ervin Committee, were a bombshell at the end of the campaign that eroded what was left of the President’s lead in the polls. They did not, however, translate into a significant rise in McKeithen’s. Voters remained blasé about the campaign dirty tricks and the Watergate burglary; they were dismayed by the two foreign policy revelations because they cut right to the heart of the President’s supposed area of competence. Nixon’s image as a master in this arena was sufficiently undercut to bring both candidates even, and possibly increase the number of McGovern votes.

Nixon’s outbursts may have convinced some voters that he indeed have a mental problem, reviving the Hutschnecker story at the last minute with added emphasis. What did happen is that Nixon’s reaction to reporter’s questions caused him to be removed from most public campaign appearances in the last days by his aides. That had the effect of making it look like that there might be something to hide.

McKeithen never quite shook the “crook” label the Republicans hung on him through the campaign: it was cited in post election polls as a reason many uncommitted voters who were disenchanted with Nixon didn’t flock to McKeithen. Many cited the campaign dirty tricks – the forged IRS letters episode in particular – as reason why they didn’t trust McKeithen, even though there was nothing to directly link him with that episode. The former anti-union Louisiana governor did build his bridges with organized labor and traditional Democratic Party constituencies well: his campaign effectively used Senator Birch Bayh to win over skeptical liberals and union leaders.

McKeithen carried eight Southern states, a vestige of the Democratic Party’s old solid South. This may have been due to regional pride in having a Southern candidate at the head of a major ticket. In carrying many of the States Goldwater carried in 1964 and Wallace did in 1968, his success left open questions as to how much race baiting, in the form of the Nixon-Mao flyer, played in that victory. Wallace kept that issue alive in Alabama throughout the election, and there may have been spill over among some white voters in other Southern states.

McKeithen did well in Northern States with strong Organized Labor influence; thus he carried New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio and Michigan. Minnesota and Washington both went against Nixon, although McKeithen won Washington state by only 2,900 votes.

Nixon kept a hold on the upper South, Mid-west and West.

The presence of McGovern on the ballot did act as a spoiler for the Democrats in California, Illinois, and through New England (and arguably in DC as well – those 3 Electoral Votes could have placed McKeithen closer to outright victory). How exactly this can be determined is not clear since the McGovern campaign relied heavily on first time voters. However, as one indicator, Massachusetts, which had gone Democratic from 1960 – 1968, (and did so again in the next Presidential election) went for Nixon in 1972; it was the state where McGovern received his second highest number of votes, and the combination of the McKeithen and McGovern vote would have added up to a decisive Democratic win in Massachusetts.

McKeithen’s reluctance to engage on Vietnam, leaving the sharper debate between McGovern and Nixon, was designed to make him appear more moderate, but it may have cost him in the long run. His background in the area of foreign policy was weak, and as such he could have done more to express a policy which might have made him stand out from Nixon. His approach came too close to endorsing Nixon’s foreign policy record by default, and justifying what McGovern was saying about McKeithen and Nixon being “twins.”

When he did make a statement about Vietnam McKeithen appeared to be trying to be on all sides at once, and only a careless statement by the South Vietnamese President in response deflected attention away from that point and back on to Nixon. McKeithen had a combat record from World War II (as did McGovern but not Nixon) and he tried to emphasize that (compared to Nixon’s lack of one) as a reason why he would be more in tune with what the troops were going through as their Commander-in-Chief. He did use the image of his friends dying around him during his Pacific combat as the reason why he could not consider giving amnesty to draft dodgers and deserters. The Veterans of Foreign Wars gave McKeithen a standing ovation when he said that; and his standing among veterans did improve.

Though recovering from being shot, and confined to a wheelchair, Governor George Wallace was able to mount a vigorous campaign within his own State, relying heavily on trusted allies in his own political network. As a result he carried the state of Alabama with 402,235 votes to 335,202 for McKeithen and 268,177 for Nixon (McGovern was not on the Alabama ballot), a result below Wallace’s 1968 victory (706,407 to 196,579 for Humphrey and 146,923 for Nixon). Wallace had added Lester Maddox, a like-minded former Governor and then Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, as his running mate to the Alabama ballot, and as a result the Wallace-Maddox ticket also appeared on the Georgia ballot (another state Wallace had carried in 1968) where they picked up an additional 22,218 votes (plus 2,031 write-in votes in Mississippi, another state he carried in 1968). As Wallace had hoped, by taking Alabama’s nine Electoral Votes, he now had an important negotiating position for determining the outcome of the election.

George McGovern’s support was widely scattered across several major cities and in college communities, particularly in the Northeast and in California . He also picked-up some suburban vote, but not much. Overall his support was a protest vote.

He did pick-up the District of Columbia’s three Electoral Votes, but that was due in large part to local politics in the nation’s capital. In 1972 the District had three Electoral Votes as a result of passage of the 23rd Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1964. However, DC had no representation in Congress (only a non-voting delegate) and was a dependency of the Federal government (Congress could, and often did, overrule the city council on local issues). The DC statehood movement had fixed on McGovern’s campaign as a way to make their voice heard, and perhaps gain the right to elect their own Congressional representative with full voting rights. As a result much of the local Democratic machine that dominated city politics within the District had steered votes to McGovern, not in support of his platform, but to use the city’s three votes to make their point.

In the immediate aftermath all three campaigns were huddled, considering their next steps

"They say it ain't over 'til the fat lady sings," McKeithen commented, "well, I guess she just missed her curtain call."

"Now we crush the cocksuckers! I mean crush them," Nixon remarked on one of his tapes. His sentence ended with the sound of him slaming something heavy against a desk, presumably to puncuate his point.

Re Thieu: he was certainly a Nixon fan IOTL. This is quite similar to what he said about RFK, and allowed the Saigon press to print cartoons of RFK in a NVA uniform.
Comparison Note: OTL November 7, 1972

The Electoral College Vote was:

Nixon 520
McGovern 17
Hospers 1

The Popular Vote result was:

Nixon 47,168,710 (60.7%)
McGovern 29,173,222 (37.5%)
Others 1,402,095 (1.8%)

TOTAL 77,744,027

Nixon’s popular margin over McGovern was 17,995,488 votes, or 23.1% of all votes cast.

I ended up with adjusting the total voter turnout based roughly on the following criteria:

- add in new voters raised by the McGovern independent campaign

- adjust with a shift in support from some minor left-wing candidates to McGovern (thus decreasing the number of Others vote)

- deduct some voters (mostly liberal Democrats) who didn’t like Nixon or McKeithen (and probably voted for McGovern IOTL) who didn’t bother to vote ITTL because they didn’t see voting for McGovern in this scenario as worthwhile.

- add some Wallace voters in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi who might otherwise have stayed home.

Net turnout is a gain of 467,719 (0.6%) greater than in IOTL.

OTL 1972 had a low turnout relative to eligible voters; the number of eligible voters increased over previous years because it was the first election in which voters between 18 and 20 could vote. IOTL this group did not turn out in large numbers. Overall, low voter turnout was probably a factor of the predictable outcome of the Nixon-McGovern contest. ITTL the election is more dynamic and goes down to the wire, drawing out more voters.
Please assure me that you're not going to create a Constitutional crisis by having Alabama's electors become "faithless electors" who switch their votes to McKeithen when the E.C. meets on 12/19. Remeber, this is 1972, not Y2K.

Also given how this election appears headed to Congress for resolution, what will the make up of the 93rd Congress be in TTL? The Senate, I imagine will be the same as OTL (56-42 seat advantage), which assures that Bayh will be elected VP. The House's make-up could change by a few seats (in the Democrats' favor if I read the post election analysis correctly). In OTl, the Democrats held a 240-192 seat advantage in the House - and more importantly, held the majority of seats in 23 state delegations. They might hold sway over more here, which would favor McKeithern over Nixon and McGovern.
Lord Gratton said:
Please assure me that you're not going to create a Constitutional crisis by having Alabama's electors become "faithless electors" who switch their votes to McKeithen when the E.C. meets on 12/19. Remeber, this is 1972, not Y2K.

Too easy, and too pointless. Might as well give McKeithen the 9 Electoral Votes on election day and call it game over. Consider who stands behind those nine Electors.

Lord Gratton said:
Also given how this election appears headed to Congress for resolution, what will the make up of the 93rd Congress be in TTL? The Senate, I imagine will be the same as OTL (56-42 seat advantage), which assures that Bayh will be elected VP.

OTL The Senate had 56 Democrats, 42 Republicans, 1 Independent Democrat (Harry Byrd of Virginia, no liberal he) and 1 Conservative (James Buckley of New York). That's of course if ITTL 1972 Senate elections the Democrats picked-up Floyd Haskell in Colorado (beat Republican Gordon Allott by 1%) and Joe Biden in Delaware (also a 1% squeaker).

IOTL Nixon had no Senate coattails in 1972 because he was in it for himself, and positoned himself as uber-candidate relative to McGovern. Maybe being forced back to his base will have effects elsewhere.

The United States Senate is an idosyncratic body, and the Democratic caucus ranges from Hubert Humphrey to James Eastland. And of course both of Alabama's Senators are Democrats who have been there a long time. And Louisiana's newly elected Democratic Senator J. Bennett Johnson had a personal disliking for John McKeithen. Stuff happens...

Lord Grattan said:
In OTl, the Democrats held a 240-192 seat advantage in the House - and more importantly, held the majority of seats in 23 state delegations. They might hold sway over more here, which would favor McKeithern over Nixon and McGovern.

IOTL Republicans did much better here without Nixon's help, picking up 13 seats. I imagine a closer campaign, with a divided Democratic party (regulars versus radicals) might lead to a different result ITTL. Increased voter turnout will have an effect on down ballot races. I suppose Wallace might even have organized something in his home state and the neighboring Southern states that could upset the apple cart.

The key though is the distribution of Democrats versus Republicans in the individual delegations; and how many will feel compelled to vote as their district did rather than along strict party lines? Some states like Nevada and Wyoming are one member voting alone, while others like Ohio are so finely balanced that one wayward member can lock them up. There will be three candidates on the House ballot after all, and McGovern will not be one of them (top three in the EC only).

What is more there is going to be litigation over some of the very tight races, which will cause further problems. The precedent for that is 1876, not 1824.

In the end 26 House delegations are required to elect a President, 51 Senators to elect a Vice President, if it gets that far.

More on this time line to follow, but for the moment I have to break to attend to "my real job." Comments and analysis always welcome.
The key though is the distribution of Democrats versus Republicans in the individual delegations; and how many will feel compelled to vote as their district did rather than along strict party lines? Some states like Nevada and Wyoming are one member voting alone, while others like Ohio are so finely balanced that one wayward member can lock them up. There will be three candidates on the House ballot after all, and McGovern will not be one of them (top three in the EC only).

Also, the Senate can only vote for the top 2 EC vote finishers for Vice President. Therefore, McGovern will not be able to vote for his running mate.
Thanks Drew. I looking forward to the next installment.

Also, the Senate can only vote for the top 2 EC vote finishers for Vice President. Therefore, McGovern will not be able to vote for his running mate.

Exactly; and Bayh, the Democrat, has the votes in the Senate to win over Agnew, if the Senate gets to vote on who becomes VPOTUS. Any Democratic Senator voting against him would be committing political suicide.

John Farson

Great stuff. It's a really riveting read.

Question: How is the political chaos in Washington affecting the war in Vietnam? At this point the war was pretty much a U.S. air war, and the USAF will keep providing air cover to the South Vietnamese regardless of the election mess. But might this affect the Paris peace talks? Could the North Vietnamese somehow seek to exploit this (or at least stall on any progress in the negotiations until they (and everyone else) knows who the heck is gonna be president come Jan. 20th 1973)?
John Farson said:
Question: How is the political chaos in Washington affecting the war in Vietnam? At this point the war was pretty much a U.S. air war, and the USAF will keep providing air cover to the South Vietnamese regardless of the election mess. But might this affect the Paris peace talks? Could the North Vietnamese somehow seek to exploit this (or at least stall on any progress in the negotiations until they (and everyone else) knows who the heck is gonna be president come Jan. 20th 1973)?


The military will continue as before until directed otherwise, and that authoirty still rests in Richard Nixon's hands.

Up until Election day change in the War is only in small degrees; but now the chaos will have a serious effect on Nixon's and Kissinger's ability to negotiate, and unlike IOTL, Nixon will be distracted by trying to sort things out. I imagine that the North Vietnamese will now adopt a wait and see attitude. You'll notice that Kissinger's ITOL October annoucement that a ceasefire was close at hand didn't happen this time around.

Lord Gratton said:
Exactly; and Bayh, the Democrat, has the votes in the Senate to win over Agnew, if the Senate gets to vote on who becomes VPOTUS. Any Democratic Senator voting against him would be committing political suicide.

The divisons within the Democrats will have some effect upon the make-up of the Senate in the 93rd Congress. The choice for VP is between Agnew and Bayh. There are some Republicans who will think twice before voting for Agnew, who was not highly regarded. And for at least some Democrats, voting for the liberal Bayh will put them between a rock and a hard place named George Wallace. And situations like this can bring out the opportunists too.

Not your father's 1972.
Left makes right: The Congressional races of 1972

The McGovern Effect on Congressional races

When George McGovern left the Democratic party to run as an independent Presidential candidate, he had no formal party structure and very little money with which to support his presidential candidacy. That severely limited the support he could offer to like-minded Congressional candidates. He did have a core of Democratic primary supporters, activist film celebrities and other activists who joined with him and Pete McCloskey in creating their Peace ticket, but these people were not a disciplined Party operation; many were first time amateurs and idealists attracted to McGovern’s anti-War and anti-poverty policies; others were a hodgepodge of radicals and activists who were not united, or necessarily co-operative with each other. To the extent that there were (McGovern) Peace Party candidates, they were self-starters who financed and managed their own campaigns with little centralized help, and simply adopted McGovern’s name to raise their profile. Some joined with local activist efforts to get out the McGovern presidential vote, and as such benefitted from voters registered by the McGovern for President movement. Two of these - who were the most successful - Prof. Gwen Bell in the Massachusetts 8th district and Gary Rizzo in the Maine Senate race, had independent sources of financing. Both attracted attention, but both only succeeded in getting Republicans elected in areas that were trending Democratic (Maine) or which had previously been safe Democratic areas (Massachusetts 8th).

McGovern offered as much of his time as he could to appear in support of local candidates running under his banner, and to assist with fundraising. Since his supporters were drawn from a very wide circle, some of the local “McGovernite” candidates turned out to be associated with fringe parties like the Socialist Workers or the Black Panthers. McGovern’s appearing at their rallies (although he made an effort to screen out the most outrageous, and on two occasions walked out of events when he saw that they were in support of fringe causes) only served to reinforce the image of “radical” as synonymous with McGovern’s name. This became a potent weapon in the hands of many Republican candidates, who used it in tough races with Democratic challengers, by branding even moderate Democrats as “McGovernite”, a word which came to be associated by many Republican and conservative Democratic voters with radical and subversive. (George McGovern was neither of these.)

For the most part, the presence of some 60 McGovernite candidates in House races, and in two Senate races, split Democratic votes, and cost regular Democrats close victories they might otherwise have won (those with margins over 65% had little to worry about). McGovern’s tendency to endorse mainstream Democrats he liked, but who did not support him, was often more a burden than a help to the people he endorsed (like Iowa’s Richard Clark who was winning his Senate race until McGovern endorsed him). McGovern himself would later admit that much of what he did in that campaign, with regard to his friends in the Democratic Party, was a mistake. He only stopped doing the endorsements though when several powerful Democrats called him to inform him that he was hurting his erstwhile colleagues without helping himself.

The Republicans held on to two marginal Senate seats (Maine and Iowa) in part because of McGovernite activity, or the spectre of McGovernite activity, scared voters away from the Democratic candidate. In Delaware the Democratic challenger, local councilman Joe Biden, tried to run as both a McGovernite and a regular Democrat, a tactic which left him open to challenges of being “wishy-washy” and two faced (and worse, a “closet McGovernite”). Biden failed to unseat a Republican incumbent as a result.

This effect was magnified in several House races, like the Massachusetts 8th, where a prominent Republican entered the race in a Democratic district because he saw an opportunity to exploit the split between regulars and McGovernites. The Republicans picked up 23 seats in the House, at least in part this way.

Asked later why he did it, McGovern said that he had acted on principle, and that if he had won the Democratic nomination he would have run on the same platform, regardless of what the party regulars thought. “The country needed a voice for principle, for truth. We weren’t getting it from President Nixon, and Governor McKeithen was taking us back into the past; he wanted to win an election. Our people needed to go in a different direction, a progressive one. Would I do it again? Probably not, but that’s hindsight. Back then, I felt compelled to do what I believed was the right thing .”

1972 United States Senate elections

Partisan division of the United States Senate at the close of the 92nd Congress:

Democratic: 54
Republican: 44
Independent Democrat: 1 (Harry Byrd of Virginia, not up for re-election)
Conservative: 1 (James Buckley of New York, not up for re-election)

Partisan division of the United States Senate, 93rd Congress in January 1973:

Democratic: 51
Republican: 46
Independent Democrat: 2 (Harry Byrd of Virginia, Orval Faubus of Arkansas)
Conservative: 1 (James Buckley of New York)

Membership of the United States Senate – 93rd Congress

2. John Sparkman (D)
3. James B. Allen (D)

2. Ted Stevens (R)
3. Mike Gravel (D)

1. Paul Fannin (R)
3. Barry Goldwater (R)

3. J. William Fulbright (D)
2. Orval Faubus (I[D])

3. Alan Cranston (D)
1. John V. Tunney (D)

3. Peter H. Dominick (R)
2. Floyd K. Haskell (D)

3. Abraham A. Ribicoff (D)
1. Lowell P. Weicker, Jr. (R)

2. J. Caleb Boggs (R)
1. William Roth (R)

3. Edward J. Gurney (R)
1. Lawton Chiles (D)

3. Herman Talmadge (D)
2. Sam Nunn (D)

1. Hiram Fong (R)
3. Daniel Inouye (D)

3. Frank Church (D)
2. James A. McClure (R)

2. Charles H. Percy (R)
3. Adlai Stevenson III (D)

1. Vance Hartke (D)
3. Birch Bayh (D)

2. Jack R. Miller (R)
3. Harold E. Hughes (D)

2. James B. Pearson (R)
3. Robert Dole (R)

3. Marlow Cook (R)
2. Louie B. Nunn (R)

3. Russell B. Long (D)
2. J. Bennett Johnston Jr. (D)

2. Margaret Chase-Smith (R)
1. Edmund Muskie (D)

3. Charles Mathias, Jr. (R)
1. John Glenn Beall, Jr. (R)

1. Edward M. Kennedy (D)
2. Edward Brooke (R)

1. Philip Hart (D)
2. Robert P. Griffin (R)

2. Walter Mondale (DFL)
1. Hubert Humphrey (DFL)

2. James Eastland (D)
1. John C. Stennis (D)

1. W. Stuart Symington (D)
3. Thomas Eagleton (D)

1. Mike Mansfield (D)
2. Lee Metcalf (D)

1. Roman Hruska (R)
2. Carl Curtis (R)

3. Alan Bible (D)
1. Howard Cannon (D)

New Hampshire
3. Norris Cotton (R)
2. Thomas J. McIntyre (D)

New Jersey
2. Clifford P. Case (R)
1. Harrison A. Williams (D)

New Mexico
1. Joseph Montoya (D)
2. Pete Domenici (R)

New York
3. Jacob K. Javits (R)
1. James L. Buckley (C)

North Carolina
3. Sam Ervin (D)
2. Jesse Helms (R)

North Dakota
3. Milton Young (R)
1. Quentin N. Burdick (D)

3. William B. Saxbe (R)
1. Robert Taft, Jr. (R)

3. Henry Bellmon (R)
2. Dewey F. Bartlett (R)

2. Mark Hatfield (R)
3. Robert Packwood (R)

1. Hugh Scott (R)
3. Richard S. Schweiker (R)

Rhode Island
1. John O. Pastore (D)
2. Claiborne Pell (D)

South Carolina
2. Strom Thurmond (R)
3. Ernest Hollings (D)

South Dakota
3. George McGovern (D)
(Despite his independent Presidential campaign, Sen. McGovern was not asked to leave the Senate Democratic caucus)
2. James Abourezk (D)

1. Howard Baker (R)
2. William E. Brock III (R)

2. John Tower (R)
1. Lloyd Bentsen (D)

3. Wallace F. Bennett (R)
1. Ted Moss (D)

3. George Aiken (R)
1. Robert Stafford (R)

1. Harry F. Byrd, Jr. (I[D])
2. William L. Scott (R)

3. Warren G. Magnuson (D)
1. Henry M. Jackson (D)

West Virginia
2. Jennings Randolph (D)
1. Robert Byrd (D)

1. William Proxmire (D
3. Gaylord Nelson (D)

1. Gale W. McGee (D)
2. Clifford Hansen (R)

Significant races

Former Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus (famous for opposing school integration at the time President Eisenhower used federal troops to facilitate court ordered integration of Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957) ran in the Democratic primary against incumbent five term Senator John McClellan, charging that McClellan had been in Washington too long and had lost sight of Arkansas state interests. A third challenger was U.S. Representative David Pryor. Faubus, who had been considered a potential running mate for George Wallace’s 1968 campaign, was backed by the Wallace organization, although he did have some differences with Wallace. Against both opponents Faubus used anti-Washington populist rhetoric, while playing down his segregationist past, and won the primary, unseating McClellan with 37% of the vote, compared to 32% for Pryor and only 31% for McClellan. He then won the run-off against Pryor 59% - 41%. Faubus then defeated his Republican challenger in the November election (still largely a formality in Arkansas). Technically a Democrat, Faubus chose to call himself an “Independent Democrat” like Virginia’s Sen. Byrd.

In an effort to prevent the entry of a pro-McGovern candidate into the race, Democratic candidate Joe Biden ran an anti-Nixon, pro-change campaign, while incorporating elements of a more mainstream Democratic campaign. There were contradictions, which his opponent, incumbent Republican Senator J. Caleb Boggs was quick to point out, calling Biden “two-faced.” The two candidates remained close in the polls throughout the election. In the final weeks of the campaign support solidified around Senator Boggs, who was backed by the White House. In the wake of the Ervin hearings Delaware Republicans organize several “support our President” rallies. Senator Boggs defeated Biden by 410 votes to win re-election to a third term.

Incumbent Republican Senator Jack R. Miller was facing a tough fight from Democratic challenger Richard C. Clark. Clark was ahead in the polls until early October, and it seemed likely that he would win. However, at a speech in Des Moines on October 5, George McGovern endorsed Clark as the more “progressive” of the two. Miller immediately pounced on that to accuse Clark (who was a moderate who had not solicited McGovern’s support (nor McKeithen’s either), and tried to repudiate it afterward) of being a closet McGovernite who would turn the State of Iowa into a “hippie commune.” William Rocap, the right-wing American Party candidate, echoed that message. That started Clark’s decline in the mid western farming state. Miller, himself a moderate, nonetheless relied on pro-Nixon rhetoric to carry his campaign across the finish line. He argued that Iowa would need an experienced hand in the Senate if McKeithen won, implying that the Democrat was both incompetent and crooked. The mix of patriotism, experience and bad mouthing both his opponent and the Democratic Presidential nominee worked, as Miller won re-election by 49.8% of the vote to 48.8 % for Clark and 1.4% for Rocap.

The race to fill retiring Republican Senator John Sherman Cooper’s seat was very close. A last minute Republican (pro-Nixon) surge in reaction to the Ervin Committee hearings tipped the balance for the Republican candidate Louie B. Nunn, who defeated challenger Walter Huddleston by a narrow margin of 49.9% to 48.1%

The Democratic challenger to incumbent liberal Republican Senator Margaret Chase-Smith, William Hathaway (a relatively moderate, establishment politician), had to fend-off a pro-McGovern challenger on his left. The result was a re-election of Senator Chase-Smith in a three-way race. (Chase-Smith 47.8%, Hathaway 47.3%, Other 4.9%)

Long time Democratic Senators James Eastland (MS) and John Sparkman (AL) were re-elected, but both faced trouble from a pro-Wallace candidate who compelled them to spend more time campaigning than they would have preferred

1972 United States House of Representative elections

Partisan division of the United States House of Representatives at the close of the 92nd Congress:

Democratic: 255
Republican: 180

Partisan division of the United States House of Representatives at the opening of the 93rd Congress in January 1973:

Democratic: 229
Republican: 203
Independent: 1
Vacant: 2*

*Rep. Thomas Hale Boggs (D-LA) and Rep. Nicholas Begich (D-AK) were killed in a plane crash while campaigning, October 16, 1972. Neither was replaced before the 93rd Congress convened on January 3, 1973.

Significant races

Alabama (4th and 5th Districts):

The incumbents in these two districts, Democrats Tom Bevill and Robert E. Jones were not close allies of Governor George Wallace. As a result he ran his personal surrogates in these two districts in conjunction with the Wallace for President movement in Alabama, and managed to install his surrogates in these two districts in three way races. Together with his two allies in the 3rd and 7th Districts, Wallace gained majority control over Alabama’s seven member Congressional delegation.

California 17th District (San Mateo and Santa Clara):

The Republicans were determined to exact revenge on Pete McCloskey for his challenge to President Nixon in the 1972 Republican primaries and his defection to the Peace platform. McCloskey lost the primary to a little known actor and ex-USAF officer named Robert Dornan who had considerable backing from the RNC and the White House.

The Republican primary proved divisive however, and the conservative and outspoken Dornan alienated many of the more moderate of McCloksey’s supporters. As a result Democratic challenger James Stewart won the district in the fall election, marking a rare Democratic pick-up in 1972.

Massachusetts 8th District (Boston and Cambridge):

House Majority Whip Thomas P. O’Neill faced a significant challenge from Republican challenger Massachusetts Lt. Governor Donald Dwight. Dwight entered the race once it became clear that the Democratic Presidential primaries would split the party between the conservative McKeithen and the liberal McGovern. Dwight campaigned on a liberal Republican platform, and accused the New Deal liberal O’Neill of being out of touch with the times. He picked-up support in the predominantly Roman Catholic working class neighborhoods of Boston by favoring restrictions on abortion, opposing forced school busing and by campaigning against the “permissive society,” which he accused O’Neill of helping to foster.

O’Neill might have been able to fight off Dwight, except that a McGovernite candidate, Harvard Professor Gwen Bell organized a largely student driven third party movement at Harvard and MIT, both of which were within the 8th district. Bell’s supporters also organized “temporary relocations” for like minded students at Boston University, providing residences within the boundaries of the 8th so that they could register to vote in the district.

With the students eating away a portion of his liberal support, and alienating some of his working-class supporters when they canvassed for Bell in their neighborhoods, O’Neill also lost ground in his core area to Dwight. David Dwight ended up unseating O’Neill.

Of note: In the fall of 1972 two of the top three Democrats in the House were either killed ( Boggs [Majority Leader]) or lost re-election (O’Neill [Majority Whip]).
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