In 1968 a large number of college students were against or had serious doubts about the Viet Nam War. A majority of the public still supported it. In the New Hampshire primary a long shot challenger, Minnesota Senator, Eugene McCarthy, came close to beating President Lyndon Johnson. The vote was close enough to convince Johnson to withdraw from running for another term.
A lot of McCarthy’s ground troops were college students. “Clean for Gene” became a slogan as the students shaved their beards and worn more conservative clothes to knock on doors. This is by the far the most McCarthy campaign button. I found this one hanging on the curtain of my college dorm room when I returned in the fall.
McCarthy picture buttons like this were much less common.
Noting McCarthy’s success, New York Senator, Robert Kennedy, entered the race. Many college students were angry at Kennedy and labeled him as “an opportunist.” Still many of the liberal establishment Democrats favored him. He was my choice at the time.
Before then, Democrats had been thinking of Robert Kennedy for 1972!
While Kennedy and McCarthy battled it out in the primaries, Lyndon Johnson held most of the cards. Although he had declined not to run for another term, he had picked many of the delegates to the 1968 Democrat Convention and had them under his control. Johnson backed vice president Hubert Humphrey under the condition that Hubert would not repudiate Johnson’s Viet Nam policy.
The race for the strongest candidate who would oppose Humphrey at the convention came down to the California primary. Robert Kennedy won it, but after he gave his victory speech, he was assassinated as he walked through the kitchen of the hotel. The shooter was a man whom I would call the first Arab terrorist. He was angry at some statements that Kennedy had made about Israel.
After Kennedy’s death, George McGovern picked up the mantle for the Kennedy supporters. There was no thought among most Kennedy supporters about switching to McCarthy.
The Democratic Convention was a disaster for the Democrats. Many angry protesters came to Chicago to cause trouble, and Chicago Mayor, Richard Dailey, played right into their hands. In a show of law and order, the Chicago police overreacted, although it has to be said some protesters did all their could to piss off the police.
At the convention, Humphrey won the nomination despite the fact that he had won just one delegate during the primaries. The McCarthy and McGovern supporters were angry beyond belief. The attitude toward Humphrey was summed up with this button.
Others though that this button symbolized what Johnson’s endorsement had done to Humphrey.
The Republican Convention was far quieter. Richard Nixon easily won the nomination over Nelson Rockefeller and Ronald Reagan who was testing his presidential wings for the first time. Nixon picked Maryland Governor, Spiro Agnew, as his running mate. It would be a decision that he would deeply regret.
An early casualty in the Republican presidential race was George Romney, who is the father of Mitt Romney. This button took a swipe at Berry Goldwater who had lost in 1964. Romney claimed that he had been “brainwashed” when he took a personal tour of Viet Nam. Many of these, who opposed the war, agreed with him, but it was not a popular thing to say in the Republican Party.
In the general election, George Wallace ran as a third party candidate. The worry was that he would pull enough electoral votes from the major party candidates so that neither of them could get a majority in the Electoral College. The suspense lasted into the wee hours of the morning after Election Day, but Nixon was the winner.
Here is a Wallace - Le May jugate.
Here is a jugate with Hubert Humphrey and his running mate, Maine Senator, Edmond Muskie.
And here is a popular button that recalled Humphrey’s days when he worked in the family pharmacy.