Robert F. Kennedy presidential campaign, 1968
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|Robert Kennedy for President 1968|
|Campaign||U.S. presidential election, 1968|
|Candidate||Robert F. Kennedy
U.S. Senator from New York 1965–1968
|Status||Announced March 16, 1968,
ended June 6, 1968.
The Robert F. Kennedy presidential campaign began on March 16, 1968. Robert Francis Kennedy, a U.S. Senator from New York who won a Senate seat in 1964, faced what was widely considered an unrealistic race against an incumbent, President Lyndon B. Johnson. After Johnson's announcement on March 31 that he would not seek re-election, Kennedy still faced Johnson’s leading challenger, Eugene McCarthy, a U.S. Senator from Minnesota, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who entered the race following Johnson’s withdrawal, for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Kennedy and McCarthy remained the main challengers to Humphrey and the policies of the Johnson administration. Throughout the spring and summer, Kennedy campaigned in presidential primary elections, especially those in Indiana, Nebraska, Oregon, South Dakota, California, and Washington, D.C. He had made progress in achieving Democratic support for the nomination until his assassination on June 5, 1968, in Los Angeles, California.
Kennedy was a late entry in the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1968. By late 1967 Kennedy had not made a decision, even under pressure from his political advisors who feared time to announce a candidacy was running out. Kennedy and his advisors knew it would not be easy to beat the incumbent president Lyndon Johnson. However, Kennedy hadn’t ruled out entering the race. Following U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy’s announcement on November 30, 1967, of his intention to run against Johnson for the Democratic nomination, Kennedy remarked to U.S. Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, “I’m worried about you and other people making early commitment to him because it may be hard for all of us later on.” At a breakfast with reporters at the National Press Club on January 30, 1968, Kennedy still indicated that he had no plans to run, but a few weeks later he had changed his mind about entering the race.
After the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, in early February 1968, Kennedy received a letter from writer Pete Hamill (later acclaimed author of the novel Snow in August). Hamill wrote an anguished letter to Kennedy noting that poor people in the Watts area of Los Angeles hung pictures of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, in their homes and that Robert Kennedy had the "obligation of staying true to whatever it was that put those pictures on those walls." Other factors led Kennedy into the presidential race as well. On February 29, 1968, the Kerner Commission’s report on racial unrest in American cities during the previous summer blamed “white racism” for the violence, but its findings were largely dismissed by the Johnson administration. Concerned about the president’s policies and actions, Kennedy remarked to his advisor, historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., “How can we possibly survive five more years of Lyndon Johnson?” To complicate his decision, Kennedy’s friends, political advisors, and family members disagreed on whether he should run. While his wife Ethel supported the idea, Kennedy’s brother, Ted, initially opposed, but offered his support when the decision was finally made to enter the race.
By late February or early March, 1968, Kennedy had made the decision to enter the race for president. On March 10, Kennedy traveled to California, to meet with civil rights activist César Chávez, who was ending a 25-day hunger strike. En route to California, Kennedy told his aide, Peter Edelman, that he had decided to run, “now I have to figure out how to get McCarthy out of it.” The weekend before the New Hampshire primary, Kennedy announced to several aides that he would run if he could persuade little-known Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota to withdraw from the presidential race. Kennedy agreed to McCarthy’s request to delay an announcement of his intentions until after the New Hampshire primary. On March 12, after Johnson won an astonishingly narrow victory in the New Hampshire primary against McCarthy, who polled 42 percent of the vote, Kennedy knew it would be unlikely that the Minnesota senator would agree to withdraw and moved forward with his plans.
On March 16, Kennedy declared, "I am today announcing my candidacy for the presidency of the United States. I do not run for the presidency merely to oppose any man, but to propose new policies. I run because I am convinced that this country is on a perilous course and because I have such strong feelings about what must be done, and I feel that I'm obliged to do all I can." Kennedy made this announcement from the same spot in the Senate Caucus Room where John F. Kennedy announced his presidential candidacy in January 1960. McCarthy supporters angrily denounced Kennedy as an opportunist. With Kennedy joining the race, liberal Democrats thought that the votes among supporters of the anti-war movement would now be split between McCarthy and Kennedy.
On March 31, during a televised speech where President Johnson announced a halt to the bombing of Vietnam and called for peace negotiations with the North Vietnamese, he stunned the nation by dropping out of the presidential race. Vice President Hubert Humphrey, long a champion of labor unions and civil rights, entered the race on April 27 with the support of the party "establishment," including the Democratic members of Congress, mayors, governors, and labor unions. Humphrey announced his candidacy too late to formally enter most of the primaries, although he was a write-in candidate in some of the contests, but he did have the support of the president and many Democratic insiders, which gave him a better chance at gaining convention delegates in the non-primary states. In contrast, Kennedy, like his brother before him, planned to win the nomination through popular support in the primaries. Because Democratic party leaders would influence delegate selection and convention votes, Kennedy’s strategy was to influence the decision-makers with crucial wins in the primary elections as it did in 1960, when John F. Kennedy beat Hubert Humphrey in the West Virginia democratic primary.
Kennedy delivered his first campaign speech on March 18 at Kansas State University, where he had previously agreed to give a lecture honoring former Kansas governor and Republican Alfred Landon. At Kansas State, Kennedy drew a “record-setting crowd of 14,500 students,” who heard him apologize as he attacked President Johnson’s Vietnam policy. “I was involved in many of the early decisions on Vietnam, decisions which helped set us on our present path.” He went on to acknowledge, “But past error is not excuse for its own perpetration.” Later that day at the University of Kansas, where an audience of 19,000 was among the largest in the university’s history, Kennedy remarked, “I don’t think that we have to shoot each other, to beat each other, to curse each other and criticize each other, I think that we can do better in this country. And that is why I run for President of the United States.” From Kansas, Kennedy went on to campaign in the Democratic primaries in Indiana, Washington, D.C., Nebraska, Oregon, South Dakota, and California.
Kennedy stood on a platform of racial equality and economic justice, non-aggression in foreign policy, decentralization of power and social improvement. A crucial element to his campaign was an engagement with the young, whom he identified as being the future of a reinvigorated American society based on partnership and social equality.
Kennedy's policy objectives did not sit well with the business world, where he was viewed as something of a fiscal liability. They were opposed to the tax increases necessary to fund Kennedy's proposed social programs. At one of his university speeches (Indiana University Medical School) he was asked, "Where are we going to get the money to pay for all these new programs you're proposing?" Kennedy replied to the medical students, about to enter lucrative careers, "From you." It was this intense and frank mode of dialogue with which Kennedy was to continue to engage with those whom he viewed as not being traditional allies of Democratic ideals or initiatives.
Kennedy expressed the commitment of his brother's administration to civil rights during a 1961 speech at the University of Georgia Law School: "We will not stand by or be aloof—we will move. I happen to believe that the 1954 [Supreme Court school desegregation] decision was right. But my belief does not matter. It is now the law. Some of you may believe the decision was wrong. That does not matter. It is the law."
In 1961, Attorney General Robert Kennedy authorized the FBI in a written directive to wiretap civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr under the auspice of concern that communists were involved in the Civil Rights Movement. The wire tapping continued through 1967. No evidence of Communist activity or influence was uncovered. Kennedy remained committed to civil rights enforcement to such a degree that he commented, in 1962, that it seemed to envelop almost every area of his public and private life—from prosecuting corrupt southern electoral officials to answering late night calls from Mrs. King concerning the imprisonment of her husband for demonstrations in Alabama. During his tenure as Attorney General he undertook the most energetic and persistent desegregation of the administration that Capitol Hill had ever experienced. He demanded that every area of government begin recruiting realistic levels of black and other ethnic workers, going so far as to criticize Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson for his failure to desegregate his own office staff.
As his brother's confidant, Kennedy oversaw the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) anti-Castro activities after the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion. He also helped develop the strategy to blockade Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis instead of initiating a military strike that might have led to nuclear war. Kennedy had initially been among the more hawkish elements of the administration on matters concerning Cuban insurrectionary aid. His initial strong support for covert actions in Cuba soon changed to a position of removal from further involvement once he became aware of the CIA's tendency to draw out initiatives and provide itself with almost unchecked authority in matters of foreign covert operations.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis Kennedy proved himself to be a gifted politician, with an ability to obtain compromises from key figures in the hawk camp concerning their position of aggression. The trust the President placed in him on matters of negotiation was such that Robert Kennedy's role in the Crisis is today seen as having been of vital importance in securing a blockade, which averted a full military engagement between the US and Soviet Russia. His clandestine meetings with members of the Soviet government continued to provide a key link to Nikita Khrushchev during even the darkest moments of the Crisis, in which the threat of nuclear strikes was considered a very present reality.
On the last night of the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy was so grateful for his brother's work in averting nuclear war that he summed it up by saying, "Thank God for Bobby".
In 1968 Kennedy was successful in four state primaries—Indiana, Nebraska, South Dakota, and California—as well as Washington D.C. McCarthy won six state primaries: Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Oregon, New Jersey, and Illinois. In primaries where Kennedy and McCarthy campaigned directly against one another, Kennedy won three state primaries—Indiana, Nebraska, and California—and McCarthy one—Oregon.
On March 27, 1968, Kennedy announced from Salt Lake City his desire to compete in the Indiana primary. Aides to Kennedy either advised against such action or told him that a race in Indiana would be an extremely tight race between Kennedy and his rival in the nominating contest, Senator Eugene McCarthy. Despite the concerns of his advisors, Kennedy traveled the following day to Indianapolis, where he filed to run in the Indiana primary. At the Indiana Statehouse, Kennedy told a cheering crowd that the state was important to his campaign, “If we can win in Indiana, we can win in every other state, and win when we go to the convention in August.”
On April 4, Kennedy made his first campaign stop in Indiana at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, followed by a speech at Ball State University in Muncie. In his speech at Ball State, Kennedy suggested that the 1968 election would “determine the direction that the United States is going to move” and that the American people should “examine everything. Not take anything for granted.” In addition, Kennedy identified his concerns about poverty and hunger, lawlessness and violence, jobs and economic development, and foreign policy, suggesting that Americans had a “moral obligation” and should “make an honest effort to understand one another and move forward together.” After leaving the stage following his address at Ball State and boarding a plane for Indianapolis, Kennedy was told that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot and upon his arrival in Indianapolis he was informed of King's assassination. In Indianapolis later that evening, Kennedy made a brief, heart-felt speech on the assassination of King to a crowd gathered for a political rally at 17th and Broadway, an African American neighborhood on the city’s near north side. Kennedy consoled the crowd and called for peace and compassion. After attending King’s funeral in Atlanta, Georgia, Kennedy returned to the campaign, drawing huge crowds at stops across the country. Kennedy’s Indiana campaign resumed on April 10.
To win the Indiana primary, Kennedy campaign advisor John Bartlow Martin urged the candidate to speak out against violence and rioting, emphasize his "law enforcement experience" as former U.S. Attorney General, and promote the idea that the federal government and the private sector should work together to solve domestic issues. Martin also urged Kennedy to speak out on the war in Vietnam, put an end to the fighting, and use the money to support programs in the United States, ideas which "always got applause." To appeal to Indiana’s more conservative voters, Kennedy "toned down his rhetoric" as well.
Indiana held its primary on May 7, and in the days before the primary election, a battle ensued between Kennedy, McCarthy, and the Indiana governor, Roger D. Branigin, a favorite son candidate and stand-in for Johnson. Branigin was a "formidable foe who had enormous power over the distribution of the approximately seven thousand patronage jobs in the state.” Branigan campaigned in nearly all of the state’s 92 counties, while McCarthy’s campaign strategy concentrated on Indiana’s rural areas and small towns. According to Kennedy’s advisor, Martin, the campaign gained momentum with Kennedy’s visits to central and southern Indiana on April 22 and 23, which included a memorable whistle-stop railroad trip aboard the Wabash Cannonball. Kennedy won on primary night with 42 percent of the vote. Branigan, who won 31 percent of the vote, came in second; McCarthy, earning 27 percent, came in third. With a victory in Indiana, Kennedy claimed momentum going into the Nebraska primary.
Nebraska and Oregon primaries
Campaigning vigorously in Nebraska, Kennedy hoped for a big win to give him momentum going into the California primary, in which McCarthy held a strong presence. While McCarthy made only one visit to Nebraska, Kennedy made numerous appearances and won the Nebraska primary on May 14, with 51.4 percent of the vote to McCarthy's 31 percent, a distant second- place finish. After the results Kennedy declared that McCarthy and Kennedy, both anti-war, had managed to earn over 80 percent of the vote, "a smashing repudiation" of the Johnson-Humphrey administration.
In contrast to Nebraska, the Oregon primary posed several challenges to Kennedy’s campaign. His campaign organization, run by Congresswoman Edith Green, was not strong and Kennedy’s campaign themes of poverty, hunger, and minority issues didn’t resonate with Oregon voters. On May 28, Kennedy lost to McCarthy, “44.7 percent to 38.8 percent.” From Oregon, the campaign moved on to California.
South Dakota and California primaries
Coming off victories in Indiana and Nebraska with new-found momentum, Kennedy hoped to take the California and South Dakota primaries on June 4. California would be “the perfect place for Kennedy to demonstrate his voter-appeal.” In California, McCarthy was well funded and organized. For Kennedy, a defeat could have ended his hopes of securing the nomination. On June 1, in the final days of the California campaign, Kennedy and McCarthy met in a televised debate. Kennedy had hopes of denting McCarthy's strength in California pulling an upset victory in the state, but the debate proved to be “indecisive and disappointing.”
Kennedy won the South Dakota primary with relative ease, beating McCarthy, 50 percent to 20 percent of the vote. Kennedy managed to win California with 46 percent of the vote to McCarthy's 42 percent, claiming the biggest prize in the nominating process as well as a crucial defeat to McCarthy's campaign. Around midnight on June 4, Kennedy addressed supporters at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, confidently promising to heal the many divisions within the country.
After addressing his supporters during the early morning hours of June 5, in a ballroom at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California, Kennedy left through a service area to greet kitchen workers. In a crowded kitchen passageway, Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian-born Jordanian, opened fire with a .22 caliber revolver and shot Kennedy in the head at close range. Following the shooting, Kennedy was rushed to Central Receiving Hospital and then transferred to The Good Samaritan Hospital, where he died early in the morning on June 6.
Kennedy's body was returned to New York City, where he lay in repose at St. Patrick's Cathedral for several days before the Requiem Mass was held there on June 8. His younger brother, U.S. Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy, eulogized him with the words: "My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it." Kennedy concluded the eulogy by paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw as he referred to his brother: "As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: 'Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say Why not?'" Later that day, a funeral train carried Kennedy’s body from New York to Washington, D. C., where he was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
- Thomas, Evan (2000). Robert F. Kennedy: His Life. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 351. ISBN 9780684834801.
- Boomhower, Ray E. (2008). Robert F. Kennedy and the 1968 Indiana Primary. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. p. 13. ISBN 9780253350893.
- Clark, Thurston (June 2008). "The Last Good Campaign". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2012-05-18. Excerpt from The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and the 82 Days that Inspired America (New York, Henry Holt, 2008) by Thurston Clark.
- Thomas, p. 356.
- Thomas, p. 357.
- Thomas, p. 357–358.
- PBS, "American Experience" (2004-07-01). "RFK, People and Events: Cesar Chavez". PBS. Retrieved 2012-05-24.
- Schlesinger, Arthur M. (1978). Robert Kennedy and His Times 2 (book club ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. p. 884.
- Thomas, p. 359.
- Kennedy, Robert F., "Robert F. Kennedy’s Announcement of his candidacy for president" (speech, Washington, D. C., 1968-3-16). Retrieved 2012-5-17.
- Thomas, p. 360.
- On September 14, 2009, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution to rename the Senate Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office Building (RSOB) to the Kennedy Senate Caucus Room in honor of the three Kennedy brothers who served in the Senate chamber. John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy announced their presidential campaigns in the room and their younger brother, the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who died of cancer in August 2009, chaired hearings in the room on a health-care bill that bore his name. CNN Politial Tracker blog (2009-09-14). "Senate Caucus Room renamed to honor Kennedy brothers". CNN Political Tracker. Retrieved 2012-05-18.
- Schlesinger, p 898.
- Thomas, p. 365.
- Solberg, Carl (1984). Hubert Humphrey: A Biography. New York: W.W. Norton. p. 332. ISBN 9780393018066.
- Schlesinger, p. 923.
- Solberg, p. 327–28.
- Cook, Rhodes (2000). United States Presidential Primary Elections 1968–1996: A Handbook of Election Statistics. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press. pp. 202, 487, 340. ISBN 9781568024516.
- Kennedy, Robert F., "Remarks at the University of Kansas" (speech, Lawrence, KS, 1968-3-18), John F. Kennedy Library. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
- Schlesinger, Arthur Jr. (1978). Robert Kennedy and His Times
- Newfield, Jack. (1969;1988). Robert Kennedy: A Memoir. Plume
- Kennedy, Robert F. “Law Day Address at the University of Georgia Law School” (speech, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, 1961-5-6), American Rhetoric Online Speech Bank. Retrieved 2012-5-2.
- Parise, Theresa (2006-01-17). "Robert F. Kennedy Miscellaneous Information". John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. Retrieved 2009-05-03.
- Sirhan Sirhan, who shot and killed Kennedy in June, 1968, was convicted and initially sentenced to death in April, 1969; however, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after the death penalty was briefly "outlawed" in California in 1972. Blankstein, Andrew (2011-03-02). "RFK assassin Sirhan Sirhan's parole rejected". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-05-25.
- Schlesinger, "The Cuban Connection", Robert Kennedy and His Times
- Clarity Through Complexity, October 2000, FindArticles.com, Retrieved 2007-6-10
- Cook, p. 12–13.
- Herbers, John (March 28, 1968). "KENNEDY TO ENTER INDIANA'S PRIMARY". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
- Boomhower, p. 43.
- Boomhower, p. 3.
- Kennedy, Robert F., "Speech at Ball State University" (speech, Ball State University, Muncie, IN, 1968-4-4). Retrieved 2012-5-24.
- Boomhower, p. 62–63.
- Boomhower, p. 67–68.
- Thomas, p. 369.
- Boomhower, p. 76.
- Boomhower, p. 78.
- Boomhower, p. 35–36.
- Boomhower, pp. 83, 88, 91.
- PBS, “American Experience”. "Shock Year: 1968–May 7, Indiana Primary". PBS. Retrieved 2012-05-24.
- Thomas, p. 375.
- Thomas, p. 377.
- Dooley, Brian (1996). Robert Kennedy: The Final Years. New York: St. Martin’s Press. p. 128. ISBN 9780312161309.
- Schlesinger, p. 929.
- Dooley, p. 129.
- Thomas, p. 382.
- Dooley, p. 130.
- Dooley, p. 131.
- Johnson’s name still appeared on the ballot in South Dakota and received 30 percent of the vote, which was recognized as support for Humphrey. Dooley, p. 134.
- PBS American Experience. "Shock Year:1968–June 4, California Primary". PBS. Retrieved 2012-05-24.
- Martinez, Michael (2011-03-01). "Sirhan Sirhan, convicted RFK assassin, to face parole board". CNN. Retrieved 2012-05-24.
- Issenberg, Sasha (2008-06-05). Slaying gave US a first taste of Mideast terror "Slaying gave US a first taste of Mideast terror". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
- Dooley, p. 140.
- "Edward M. Kennedy Address at the Public Memorial Service for Robert F. Kennedy". American Rhetoric: Top 100 Speeches. Retrieved 2009-08-29.
- Thomas, p. 393.
- Thurston Clarke (June 2008). "The Last Good Campaign". Vanity Fair.