PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Presidential campaigns were different in 1968, which was a particularly tumultuous year.
Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy captured the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party and challenged President Lyndon Johnson for the nomination. Johnson won the New Hampshire primary, but not by much. That gave the McCarthy campaign momentum.
It also propelled New York Sen. Robert Kennedy to officially join the race.
Kennedy announced he was a candidate on March 16, 1968. Two weeks later, on March 31, LBJ announced he would not run or seek the nomination.
RFK, who had been mentioned as a candidate for a long time, immediately captivated the nation’s attention and began dominating the race. He still had time to organize his campaign, get ballot access in upcoming primary states, and plan a convention strategy for later that summer in Chicago.
But the race didn’t just include Kennedy and McCarthy. Vice President Hubert Humphrey jumped into the race and, as the true insider, had a path that would make it easier for him to win the nomination.
Kennedy began to win.
On June 5, 1968, Kennedy won the California primary. At his victory speech in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, the 42-year-old said, “It’s on to Chicago and let’s win there!” Minutes later, he lay mortally wounded on the floor of the kitchen, gunned down by Sirhan Sirhan. Kennedy died less than 24 hours later.
The convention in Chicago that summer was chaos. Humphrey emerged as the nominee, but he was closely associated with LBJ — whose accomplishments in the civil rights arena were overshadowed by his Vietnam policy. Richard Nixon eked out a narrow victory over Humphrey that November.
Robert Kennedy’s assassination came just 2 months after the assassination of Martin Luther King. That was a long, hot summer in the United States.
As the 2016 primary campaign winds down, it’s good to keep in mind these other contentious and ugly campaigns in our history. Historians have debated for years what would have happened if RFK had lived.
What we can do is remember his words:
“What is objectionable, what is dangerous, about extremists is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents.” — Robert F. Kennedy