George Wallace presidential campaign, 1968
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Wallace's pro-segregation policies had been rejected by the mainstream of the Democratic Party. The impact of the Wallace campaign was substantial, winning the electoral votes of several states in the Deep South. Although Wallace did not expect to win the election, his strategy was to prevent either major party candidate from winning a majority in the Electoral College and throw the election into the House of Representatives, where Wallace would have bargaining power sufficient to determine, or at least strongly influence, the selection of a winner.
When George Wallace ran for President in 1968, it was not as a Democrat – which he had done in the 1964 Democratic primaries and would again in the 1972 Democratic primaries – but as a candidate of the American Independent Party. The American Independent Party was formed by Wallace, whose pro-segregation policies had been rejected by the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Wallace's strategy was essentially the same as that of Dixiecrat candidate Strom Thurmond in 1948 in that the campaign was run without any realistic chance of winning the election outright, but instead with the hope of receiving enough electoral votes to force the House of Representatives to decide the election, something many observers thought might happen. This would presumably give him the role of a power broker; Wallace hoped that southern states could use their clout to end federal efforts at desegregation.
Wallace ran a campaign supporting "law and order" and racial segregation that strongly appealed to rural white Southerners and blue-collar union workers in the North. Wallace was leading the three-way race in the Old Confederacy with 45% of the vote in mid-September. Wallace's appeal to blue-collar workers and union members (who usually voted Democratic) hurt Humphrey in Northern states like Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, Michigan, and Wisconsin. A mid-September AFL-CIO internal poll showed that one in three union members supported Wallace, and a Chicago Sun-Times poll showed that Wallace had a plurality of 44% of white steelworkers in Chicago. Both Humphrey and Nixon were able to peel back some Wallace support by November; the unions highlighted the flow of Northern union jobs to Wallace's Alabama, a right-to-work state (although Wallace publicly opposed right-to-work laws), and Nixon persuaded enough Southerners that a "divided vote" would give the election to Humphrey. From October 13–20, Wallace's support fell from 20% to 15% nationally. In the North, the former Wallace vote split evenly between Humphrey and Nixon. In the border South, Wallace defectors were choosing Nixon over Humphrey by three to one.
Wallace's foreign policy positions set him apart from the other candidates in the field. "If the Vietnam War was not winnable within 90 days of his taking office, Wallace pledged an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. . . . Wallace also called foreign-aid money 'poured down a rat hole' and demanded that European and Asian allies pay more for their defense." These stances were overshadowed by Wallace's running mate, retired Air Force general Curtis LeMay, who implied he would use nuclear weapons to win the war.
The executive director of Wallace's 1968 campaign, Tom Turnipseed, a Mobile native, was later a member of the South Carolina State Senate and an attorney in Columbia, South Carolina. Not long after the 1968 campaign, Turnipseed began moving to the political left, joined the Americans for Democratic Action, and became active in the civil rights and environmental movements.
Former Georgia governor Marvin Griffin was a temporary running mate in order to get the Wallace candidacy on the ballot in several states. The Wallace campaign considered former Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, retired Air Force General Curtis LeMay, and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover as possible running mates. Benson and LeMay expressed interest, and Hoover did not even respond. In June, the campaign looked into several members of Congress, all of whom were unwilling to attach themselves to the Wallace ticket. Wallace's aides came to favor Happy Chandler, the former baseball commissioner and governor of Kentucky. It was hoped that Chandler could help put Wallace over the top in Tennessee, South Carolina, and Florida, where he was narrowly behind Nixon, and solidify support in Arkansas, Georgia, and North Carolina, where Wallace was leading. Wallace was cautious: Chandler had supported the hiring of Jackie Robinson by the Brooklyn Dodgers, and was now more of a mainstream liberal Democratic politician. Wallace was persuaded by early September; as one of Wallace's aides put it, "We have all the nuts in the country, we could get some decent people– you working one side of the street and he working the other side." When the "done deal" was leaked to the press, Wallace's supporters objected; Wallace's Kentucky campaign chair resigned, and influential donor Nelson Bunker Hunt demanded that Chandler be dropped from the ticket. Wallace retracted the invitation. Hunt's first choice for the second slot was Eisenhower Cabinet member Ezra Taft Benson. Benson was barred by several Mormon leaders from joining a Wallace ticket; Benson's membership in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles would cause an image problem for the church if he joined the Wallace ticket
Sanders turned down Wallace as well. Wallace ended up persuading Curtis LeMay, who feared being labeled a racist, to join the campaign. LeMay was chairman of the board of an electronics company, and the company would dismiss him if he spent his time running for vice president; Hunt set up a million-dollar fund to reimburse him for any losses.
Curtis LeMay was an enthusiast for the use of nuclear weapons. Wallace's aides tried to persuade him to avoid questions relating to the topic, but when asked about it at his first interview, he attempted to dispel American "phobias about nuclear weapons" and discussed radioactive landcrabs at Bikini atoll. LeMay again embarrassed Wallace's campaign in the fall by suggesting that nuclear weapons could be used in the Vietnam War, which led Humphrey to dub Wallace and LeMay the "Bombsey Twins". The selection of LeMay proved a disastrous drag on the campaign and was dubbed the "LeMay fiasco" internally. The selection reinforced Wallace's gender gap: in late September, Wallace's support stood at 50% in the Old Confederacy among men, and 40% among women. In the North, Wallace had 20% support among men, but less than half that among women.
Wallace's campaign rhetoric became infamous, such as when he pledged "If any anarchists lie down in front of my automobile, it will be the last automobile they ever lie down in front of" and asserted that the only four letter words that hippies did not know were w-o-r-k and s-o-a-p. He accused Humphrey and Nixon of wanting to desegregate the South. Wallace proclaimed, "There's not a dime's worth of difference between the Democrat and Republican parties," a line that he had first used in 1966, when his first wife, Lurleen Burns Wallace, ran successfully for governor against the Republican James D. Martin. The Wallace campaign in California and other states attracted the "Radical Right", including the John Birch Society.
Most mainstream media editorials expressed opposition to the Wallace campaign, but some southern newspapers enthusiastically backed him. George W. Shannon of the Shreveport Journal, for instance, wrote countless editorials supporting the third-party concept in presidential elections. Wallace repaid Shannon by appearing at Shannon's retirement dinner. In addition to Shannon, Pete Hamill of the New Left magazine Ramparts wrote that "Wallace and the black and radical militants ... share some common ground: local control of schools and institutions, a desire to radically change America, a violent distrust of the power structure and the establishment. In this year’s election, the only one of the three major candidates who is a true radical is Wallace." New Leftist Jack Newfield, who by 1971 had become critical of both his movement and "consensus liberals" like Humphrey, wrote that year:
I cannot recall either Johnson in 1964 or Humphrey in 1968 campaigning on any positive or exciting ideas that might excite the almost-poor workers, whose votes they took for granted ... In contrast, George Wallace has been sounding like William Jennings Bryan as he attacked concentrated wealth in his speeches ...
From 1960 to 1968 liberal Democrats governed the country. But nothing basic got done to make life decisively better for the white workingman. When he bitched about street crime, he was called a Goldwaterite by liberals who felt secure in the suburbs behind high fences and expensive locks. When he complained about his daughter being bused, he was called a racist by liberals who could afford to send their own children to private schools. Meanwhile, the liberal elite repeated their little Polish jokes at Yale and on the Vineyard; and they cheered when Eugene McCarthy reminded them that the educated people voted for him and the uneducated people voted for Robert Kennedy.
Liberal hypocrisy created a lot of Wallace votes in 1968.
Many found Wallace an entertaining campaigner, regardless of whether they approved of his opinions. To hippies who said he was a Nazi, he replied, "I was killing fascists when you punks were in diapers." Another memorable quote: "They're building a bridge over the Potomac for all the white liberals fleeing to Virginia."
The Wallace campaign was comfortably ahead in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Wallace's aides insisted that the campaign focus on winning the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee. Wallace refused, stating that he was running a "national campaign," and traveled from Boston to San Diego in the of the campaign. There were rallies in 33 cities in the North during this period, but Wallace stopped only one time each in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia.
On October 24, 1968, Wallace spoke at Madison Square Garden before "the largest political rally held in New York City since Franklin Roosevelt had denounced the forces of 'organized money' from the same stage in 1936". An overflow crowd of 20,000 packed the Garden while pro- and anti-Wallace protesters clashed with more than 1,000 police across the street. In a now-famous reference to a protester that had lain down in front of Lyndon B. Johnson's limousine the year before, Wallace stated, "I tell you when November comes, the first time they lie down in front of my limousine it'll be the last one they ever lay down in front of; their day is over!
Richard Strout, the influential columnist for the New Republic, sat in an upper balcony. For more than forty years, he had reported on the American political scene, under the by-line "T.R.B. from Washington," but nothing had prepared him for the spectacle he encountered at the Garden that night. "There is menace in the blood shout of the crowds," he wrote his readers. "You feel you have known this somewhere; never again will you read about Berlin in the 30's without remembering this wild confrontation here of two irrational forces." The American "sickness" had been localized in the person of George Wallace, the "ablest demagogue of our time, with a voice of venom and a gut knowledge of the prejudices of the low-income class." He would not win, said Strout, and his strength was declining, "but sympathy for him is another matter.—
When asked what he considered the "biggest domestic issue for 1968," Wallace replied:
It’s people—our fine American people, living their own lives, buying their own homes, educating their children, running their own farms, working the way they like to work, and not having the bureaucrats and intellectual morons trying to manage everything for them. It’s a matter of trusting the people to make their own decisions.—
On the campaign trail, Wallace often repeated this theme, saying:
What are the Real issues that exist today in these United States? It is the trend of the pseudo-intellectual government, where a select, elite group have written guidelines in bureaus and court decisions, have spoken from some pulpits, some college campuses, some newspaper offices, looking down their noses at the average man on the street.—
General election results
Wallace's "outsider" status was once again popular with voters, particularly in the rural South. He won almost 10 million popular votes, carried five Southern states, 45 electoral votes plus one vote from a faithless elector, came fairly close to receiving enough votes to throw the election to the House of Representatives, and became the last person (as of 2014) who was not the nominee of one of the two major parties to win electoral votes. He was the first such person since Harry F. Byrd, an independent segregationist candidate in the 1960 presidential election. (John Hospers in 1972, Ronald Reagan in 1976, Lloyd Bentsen in 1988 and John Edwards in 2004 all received one electoral vote from dissenters, but none "won" these votes.) Wallace also received the vote of one North Carolina elector who was pledged to Nixon.
Wallace was the most popular 1968 presidential candidate among young men. Wallace also proved to be popular among blue-collar workers in the North and Midwest, and he took many votes which might have otherwise gone to Humphrey.
Wallace's support in the North plummeted from 13% in early October to 8% by election day. Nixon won the Carolinas and Tennessee with less than 40% of the vote, with Wallace close behind. These were worth 32 electoral votes (though Wallace had received 1 electoral vote from North Carolina). Had Wallace won these states, Nixon would have won the election with 270 votes, the bare minimum. However, it is highly likely that a stronger Wallace performance would have handed Missouri, the closest state (a margin of 0.57%) and a border state, to Humphrey, which would have thrown the election to the House (which as explained earlier, was Wallace's intention all along). A change of around 1% in either Ohio or New Jersey would have also thrown the election to the House, had Wallace carried North Carolina or Tennessee. A Wallace win in either one of the Carolinas or Tennessee and a 1.14% shift in Ohio would be the simplest way for the election to be thrown to the House.
1968 U.S. House election
Under the United States Constitution, the House of Representatives elects the President in the event no candidate receives a majority in the Electoral College. Each state's House delegation receives one vote. The map on the right indicates the majority party of each state's delegation following the 1968 U.S. House election - blue states being Democratic and red states being Republican. This House would have elected the President had Wallace succeeded in denying his opponents an Electoral College majority.
As indicated on the map, Democrats controlled 26 of the 50 state house delegations, with Republicans controlling 19 delegations and the other five being evenly split. Had the Democratic delegations all been firmly behind Humphrey, then Wallace might have found himself with little influence on post-election events even if he had succeeded in forcing the election into the House. However, Wallace believed the Southern Democratic delegations would not support Humphrey without first obtaining substantial concessions with respect to federal desegregation measures, or might even have agreed to back Nixon if he agreed to Southern demands.
An alternative theory holds that had Wallace achieved his aim he could have pre-empted an election in the House by instructing his own electors to back one of the major party candidates - there was no legal or constitutional impediment that would have prevented him from doing so. This would have allowed Wallace the opportunity to negotiate directly with the major candidates (provided he could have concluded such negotiations prior to the Electoral College formally casting its votes for President). It has been postulated that Wallace might possibly have been able to come to an agreement with Nixon who (with his party controlling only 19 state delegations) might have been seen to have little prospect of being elected President without making some sort of arrangement with Wallace.
Governor of Georgia Lester Maddox
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- Percentage of vote for AIP in 1968 election, charted by US counties