1968 Democratic Party presidential primaries

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1968 Democratic Party presidential primaries

← 1964 March 12 to June 11, 1968 1972 →
  Eugene McCarthy 1968 b.png Robert F. Kennedy receives award (1).jpg
Candidate Eugene McCarthy Robert F. Kennedy
Home state Minnesota New York
Contests won 6 4
Popular vote 2,914,933 2,305,148
Percentage 38.7% 30.6%

  Lyndon B. Johnson to Joaquin De Alba with appreciation and... Dec. 1967 reducida (croped).jpg 38 Hubert Humphrey 3x4.jpg
Candidate Lyndon B. Johnson Hubert Humphrey
Home state Texas Minnesota
Contests won 1 0
Popular vote 383,590 166,463
Percentage 5.1% 2.2%

Gold denotes a state won by Lyndon B. Johnson. Purple denotes a state won by Robert F. Kennedy. Green denotes a state won by Eugene McCarthy. Blue denotes a state won by George Smathers. Red denotes a state won by Hubert Humphrey. Orange denotes a state won by Stephen M. Young. Grey denotes a state that did not hold a primary.

Previous Democratic nominee

Lyndon B. Johnson

Democratic nominee

Hubert Humphrey

From March 12 to June 11, 1968, Democratic Party voters of several states elected delegates to the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Incumbent Vice President Hubert Humphrey was selected as the nominee in the 1968 Democratic National Convention held from August 26 to August 29, 1968, in Chicago, Illinois.


The following political leaders were candidates for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination:


Candidate Born Most recent position Home state Campaign
38 Hubert Humphrey 3x4.jpg
Hubert Humphrey
May 27, 1911
(Age 57)
Wallace, South Dakota
Vice President of the United States
Flag of Minnesota (1957–1983).svg
Humphrey 1968.png

Competed in primaries[edit]

These candidates participated in multiple state primaries or were included in multiple major national polls.

Candidate Born Most recent position Home state Campaign
Lyndon B. Johnson to Joaquin De Alba with appreciation and... Dec. 1967 reducida (croped).jpg
Lyndon B. Johnson
August 27, 1908
(age 59)
Stonewall, Texas
President of the United States
Flag of Texas.svg
Withdrew: March 31, 1968
Robert F. Kennedy receives award (1).jpg
Robert F. Kennedy
November 20, 1925
(age 42)
Brookline, Massachusetts
U.S. Senator
from New York
New York
New York
Kennedy 1968.png
Assassinated: June 5, 1968
Eugene McCarthy 1968 b.png
Eugene McCarthy
March 29, 1916
(age 52)
Watkins, Minnesota
U.S. Senator
from Minnesota
Flag of Minnesota (1957–1983).svg
Eugene McCarthy 1968 logo.jpg

Bypassing primaries[edit]

The following candidate did not place his name directly on the ballot for any state's presidential primary, but instead sought to influence selection from unelected delegates or sought the support of uncommitted delegates.

Candidate Born Most recent position Home state Campaign
George McGovern
July 19, 1922
(Age 45)
Avon, South Dakota
U.S. Senator
from South Dakota
Flag of South Dakota (1963–1992).svg
South Dakota
  1. ^ McGovern entered the race following Robert Kennedy's assassination.

Favorite sons[edit]

The following candidates ran only in their home state's primary or caucus for the purpose of controlling its delegate slate at the convention and did not appear to be considered national candidates by the media.

Declined to run[edit]

The following persons were listed in two or more major national polls or were the subject of media speculation surrounding their potential candidacy, but declined to actively seek the nomination.


Nationwide polling[edit]

Poll source Publication
Hubert Humphrey
Lyndon B. Johnson
Robert F. Kennedy
Eugene McCarthy
Gallup[1] Feb. 1966 5% 52% 27%
Gallup[1] Aug. 1966 6% 38% 40%
Gallup[1] Jan. 1967 8% 34% 43%
Gallup[1] Sep. 1967 6% 37% 39%
Newsweek[1] Jan. 7, 1968 74.3% 16.7%
Theodore H. White[1] Jan. 10, 1968 79% 12%
Newsweek[1] Jan. 21, 1968 73% 18%
U.S. News & World Report[1] Jan. 22, 1968 66.7% 24.3%
Newsweek[1] Jan. 28, 1968 80% 11%
New York Times/CBS[1] Feb. 1, 1968 71% 20%
Theodore H. White[1] Feb. 10, 1968 73% 18%
Newsweek[1] Feb. 25, 1968 76.7% 14.3%
U.S. News & World Report[1] Feb. 26, 1968 76.2% 14.8%
New York Times/CBS[1] Feb. 29, 1968 77% 14%
Newsweek[1] Mar. 3, 1968 69% 20%
U.S. News & World Report[1] Mar. 5, 1968 65% 30%
Theodore H. White[1] Mar. 10, 1968 65.5% 26.5%
March 12: New Hampshire primary
March 16: Robert Kennedy enters the race
New York Times/CBS[1] Mar. 21, 1968 50% 41%
U.S. News & World Report[1] Mar. 24, 1968 39% 52%
March 31: Johnson withdraws
New York Times/CBS[1] Apr. 4, 1968 12% 79%
Gallup[1] Apr. 9, 1968 31% 35% 23%
Gallup[1] Apr. 23, 1968 25% 28% 33%
Gallup[1] May 7, 1968 40% 31% 19%
Gallup[1] July 23, 1968 53% 39%

Primary race[edit]

Though United States President Lyndon B. Johnson had served during two presidential terms, the 22nd Amendment did not disqualify Johnson from running for another term, because he had only served 14 months following John F. Kennedy's assassination before being sworn in for his "full" term in January 1965. As a result, it was widely assumed when 1968 began that President Johnson would be a Democratic candidate, and that he would have little trouble in winning the Democratic nomination.

Despite the growing opposition to Johnson's policies in Vietnam in both Congress and in the public, no prominent Democratic politician was prepared to run against a sitting President of his own party. Anti-war activists of the new "Dump Johnson movement" initially approached United States Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York, an outspoken critic of Johnson's policies with a large base of support, for a candidacy, but he declined to run. They then appealed to United States Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, who was willing to openly challenge Johnson; prior to entering the race, McCarthy had hoped that Kennedy would run as well.[2] Running as an anti-war candidate in the New Hampshire primary, McCarthy hoped to pressure the Democrats into publicly opposing the Vietnam War. Trailing badly in national polls and with little chance to influence delegate selection absent primary wins, McCarthy decided to pour most of his resources into New Hampshire, the first state to hold a primary election. He was boosted by thousands of young college students who volunteered throughout the state, who shaved their beards and cut their hair to "Get Clean for Gene."

On March 12, McCarthy won 42% of the primary vote to Johnson's 49%, an extremely strong showing for such a challenger, and one which gave McCarthy's campaign legitimacy and momentum. In a surprise move on March 16, Robert F. Kennedy renounced his earlier support for Johnson and proclaimed his own candidacy. McCarthy and his supporters viewed this as opportunism, creating a lasting enmity between the campaigns. To make matters worse, a poll in Wisconsin showed McCarthy beating the President badly, with the latter only getting 12% of the vote.[3] Thereafter, McCarthy and Kennedy engaged in a series of state primaries. Despite Kennedy's high profile, McCarthy won most of the early primaries, including Kennedy's native state of Massachusetts and some primaries in which he and Kennedy were in direct competition.[4][5] Following his victory in the key battleground state of Oregon, it was assumed that McCarthy was the preferred choice among the young voters.[6]

Johnson withdraws[edit]

President Lyndon B. Johnson delivers a speech withdrawing from the race on March 31.

Johnson was now faced with two strong primary challenges. In declining health and facing bleak political forecasts in the upcoming primaries,[7] Johnson concluded that he could not win the nomination without a major political and personal struggle. On March 31, 1968, at the end of a televised address regarding the War, the President shocked the nation by announcing that he would not seek re-election. By withdrawing from the race, he could avoid the stigma of defeat and could keep control of the party machinery to support Hubert Humphrey, his loyal vice president. As the year developed, it also became clear that Johnson believed he could secure his place in the history books by ending the war before the election in November, thus giving Humphrey the boost he would need to win.[8]

With Johnson's withdrawal, the New Deal Coalition effectively dissolved into support for different candidates:

  • Hubert Humphrey, Johnson's Vice President, gained the support of labor unions and big-city party bosses (such as Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley), who had been the Democratic Party's primary power base since the days of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was also believed that President Johnson himself was covertly supporting Humphrey, despite public claims of neutrality.
  • McCarthy rallied students and intellectuals who had been the early activists against the war in Vietnam;
  • Kennedy gained some support from the poor, Catholics, African Americans, and other racial and ethnic minorities;
  • Conservative white Southern Democrats, or "Dixiecrats," their influence declining swiftly in the national party, tended to support either Vice President Humphrey or George C. Wallace and the Alabama governor's third-party campaign in the general election.

Contest for the Democratic nomination and Assassination of Kennedy[edit]

Kennedy campaigning in Los Angeles (photo courtesy of John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, Boston)

After Johnson's withdrawal, Vice President Hubert Humphrey announced his candidacy on April 27.[9] Kennedy was successful in four state primaries (Indiana, Nebraska, South Dakota, and California) and McCarthy won six (Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Oregon, New Jersey, and Illinois); however, in primaries where they campaigned directly against one another, Kennedy won three primaries (Indiana, Nebraska, and California) and McCarthy won one (Oregon).[10] Humphrey did not compete in the primaries, leaving favorite sons to collect favorable surrogates, notably United States Senator George A. Smathers from Florida, United States Senator Stephen M. Young from Ohio, and Governor Roger D. Branigin of Indiana.

Humphrey's campaign concentrated on winning the delegates in non-primary states, where party leaders controlled the delegate votes. Kennedy defeated Branigin and McCarthy in the Indiana primary, and then defeated McCarthy in the Nebraska primary. However, McCarthy upset Kennedy in the Oregon primary.

After Kennedy's defeat in Oregon, the California primary was seen as crucial to both Kennedy and McCarthy. McCarthy stumped the state's many colleges and universities, where he was treated as a hero for being the first presidential candidate to oppose the war. Kennedy campaigned in the ghettos and barrios of the state's larger cities, where he was mobbed by enthusiastic supporters. Kennedy and McCarthy engaged in a television debate a few days before the election; it was generally considered a draw. On June 4, Kennedy defeated McCarthy in California, 46% to 42%, and also won the South Dakota primary held the same day. McCarthy, who defeated Kennedy in New Jersey that very same night, refused to withdraw from the presidential race and made it clear that he would contest Kennedy in the upcoming New York primary, where McCarthy had much support from antiwar activists in New York City.

After giving his victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California, Kennedy was assassinated in the kitchen service pantry in the early morning of June 5. A Palestinian immigrant with Jordanian citizenship named Sirhan Sirhan was arrested. Kennedy died 26 hours later at Good Samaritan Hospital.

At the moment of Kennedy's death, the delegate totals were:


Only 14 states held primaries at this time (California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and West Virginia), in addition to Washington, D.C.[11]

Results by winners:[12]

Statewide results by winner[edit]

Eugene McCarthy Robert F. Kennedy Stephen M. Young Lyndon Johnson George Smathers Hubert Humphrey Unpledged
March 12 New Hampshire 42% 1% 0% 50% 0% 0% 0%
April 2 Wisconsin 56% 6% 0% 35% 0% 0% 0%
April 23 Pennsylvania 71% 11% 0% 4% 0% 9% 0%
April 30 Massachusetts 49% 28% 0% 3% 0% 18% 0%
May 7 Washington, D.C.[13] 0% 62% 0% 0% 0% 38% 0%
May 7 Indiana 27% 42% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0%
May 7 Ohio 0% 0% 100% 0% 0% 0% 0%
May 14 Nebraska 31% 52% 0% 6% 0% 7% 0%
May 14 West Virginia 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 100%
May 28 Florida 29% 0% 0% 0% 46% 0% 0%
May 28 Oregon 44% 38% 0% 12% 0% 3% 0%
June 4 California 42% 46% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0%
June 4 New Jersey 36% 31% 0% 0% 0% 20% 0%
June 4 South Dakota 20% 50% 0% 30% 0% 0% 0%
June 11 Illinois 39% 0% 0% 1% 0% 17% 0%

Total popular vote:[14]

Johnson/Humphrey surrogates:

Minor candidates and write-ins:

  Primary Map By County (Massachusetts not Included)

Hubert Humphrey - Red Lyndon B. Johnson - Yellow (outside of Florida) Robert F. Kennedy - Purple Eugene McCarthy - Green George Wallace - Lime Green Roger D. Branigin - Orange George Smathers - Yellow (Florida Only) Stephen Young - Brown

Democratic Convention and antiwar protests[edit]

Robert Kennedy's death threw the Democratic Party into disarray. The loss of his campaign, which had relied on his popularity and charisma convincing non-primary delegates to support him at the convention, meant that the anti-war movement was effectively over, and that Humphrey would be the prohibitive favorite for the nomination. Some of Kennedy's support went to McCarthy, but many of Kennedy's delegates, remembering their bitter primary battles with McCarthy, rallied around the late-starting candidacy of Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, a Kennedy supporter in the spring primaries.

When the 1968 Democratic National Convention opened in Chicago, thousands of young antiwar activists from around the nation gathered in the city to protest the Vietnam War. In a clash which was covered on live television, Americans were shocked to see Chicago Police officers brutally beating anti-war protesters. While the protesters chanted "the whole world is watching", the police used clubs and tear gas to beat back the protesters, leaving many of them bloody and dazed. The tear gas even wafted into numerous hotel suites; in one of them Vice President Humphrey was watching the proceedings on television. Meanwhile, the convention itself was marred by the strong-arm tactics of Chicago's mayor Richard J. Daley (who was seen on television angrily cursing Connecticut senator Abraham Ribicoff, who made a speech at the convention denouncing the excesses of the Chicago police in the riots).

In the end, the nomination itself was anticlimactic, with Vice President Humphrey handily beating McCarthy and McGovern on the first ballot. The convention then chose Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine as Humphrey's running mate. However, the tragedy of the antiwar riots crippled the Humphrey campaign from the start, and it never fully recovered. (White, pgs. 377-378;[15])

The Final Ballot
Presidential tally Vice Presidential tally:
Hubert Humphrey 1759.25 Edmund S. Muskie 1942.5
Eugene McCarthy 601 Not Voting 604.25
George S. McGovern 146.5 Julian Bond[16] 48.5
Channing Phillips 67.5 David Hoeh 4
Daniel K. Moore 17.5 Edward M. Kennedy 3.5
Edward M. Kennedy 12.75 Eugene McCarthy 3.0
Paul E. "Bear" Bryant 1.5 Others 16.25
James H. Gray 0.5
George Wallace 0.5

Source: Keating Holland, "All the Votes... Really," CNN[17]


Hubert Humphrey

Robert F. Kennedy

Eugene McCarthy

George McGovern (during convention)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x "US President - D Primaries, Polling". OurCampaigns.com. 16 Nov 2004. Retrieved 25 Apr 2020.
  2. ^ Sandbrook, Dominic (2007-12-18). Eugene McCarthy: The Rise and Fall of Postwar American Liberalism. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 188. ISBN 978-0-307-42577-5.
  3. ^ "Could Trump Lose the Republican Nomination? Here's the History of Primary Challenges to Incumbent Presidents". Time.
  4. ^ George Rising (1997). Clean for Gene: Eugene McCarthy's 1968 Presidential Campaign. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 122–. ISBN 978-0-275-95841-1.
  5. ^ "1968: Eugene McCarthy". April 7, 2018.
  6. ^ Oregonian/OregonLive, Douglas Perry | The (May 16, 2016). "Robert F. Kennedy's epic battle for Oregon: Historic photos". oregonlive.
  7. ^ Cook, Rhodes (2000). United States Presidential Primary Elections 1968–1996: A Handbook of Election Statistics. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press. p. 797. ISBN 9781568024516.
  8. ^ Dallek (1998); Woods (2006); Gould (1993).
  9. ^ Solberg, Carl (1984). Hubert Humphrey: A Biography. New York: W.W. Norton. p. 332. ISBN 9780393018066.
  10. ^ Cook, p. 12–13.
  11. ^ Cook, p. 6.
  12. ^ "Primaries, caucuses and conventions: Classic races for the presidential nomination". Oocities.com. Archived from the original on 2009-10-27. Retrieved 2010-06-17.
  13. ^ "DC US President - D Primary Race - May 07, 1968". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 15 August 2018.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g "US President - D Primaries Race - Mar 12, 1968". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2010-06-17.
  15. ^ a b c "US President - D Convention Race - Aug 26, 1968". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2010-06-17.
  16. ^ not eligible to serve as Vice President, because he was only 28-years old at the time
  17. ^ "AllPolitics - 1996 GOP NRC - All The Votes...Really". Cnn.com. Retrieved 2010-06-17.
  18. ^ "SD US President - D Primary Race - Jun 04, 1968". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2010-06-17.
  19. ^ "Candidate - Harold Everett Hughes". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2010-06-17.
  20. ^ a b "CA US President - D Primary Race - Jun 04, 1968". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2010-06-17.
  21. ^ The Rise of a Prairie Statesman: The Life and Times of George McGovern, p. 405

Further reading[edit]

  • Alterman, Eric. The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama (Penguin, 2013).
  • Boomhower, Ray E. "Fighting the Good Fight: John Bartlow Martin and Hubert Humphrey's 1968 Presidential Campaign." Indiana Magazine of History (2020) 116#1 pp 1-29.
  • Chester, Lewis, Hodgson, Godfrey, Page, Bruce. An American Melodrama: The Presidential Campaign of 1968. (The Viking Press, 1969).
  • Johns, Andrew L. The Price of Loyalty: Hubert Humphrey's Vietnam Conflict (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).
  • Nelson, Justin A. "Drafting Lyndon Johnson: The President's Secret Role in the 1968 Democratic Convention." Presidential Studies Quarterly 30.4 (2000): 688-713.
  • Nelson, Michael. "The Historical Presidency: Lost Confidence: The Democratic Party, the Vietnam War, and the 1968 Election." Presidential Studies Quarterly 48.3 (2018): 570-585.
  • Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. Robert Kennedy and His Times (1996).
  • Small, Melvin. "The Doves Ascendant: The American Antiwar Movement in 1968." South Central Review 16 (1999): 43-52 online.
  • Solberg, Carl. Hubert Humphrey: A Biography. (Norton, 1984).
  • White, Theodore H. The Making of the President 1968. (1969)