The Presidential Election of 1972


The Presidential election of 1972 had two strong candidates, President
Richard Nixon and George McGovern. There were many issues which had a great
deal of importance to the election. The Vietnam war and the stability of the
economy at the time were two main factors. The election ended in one the
largest political scandals in U.S. history, being the Watergate break-in, and
cover-up, by President Richard Nixon.
The Democratic party had a large selection of candidates from which to
choose for the primary elections of 1972. There were many well known candidates
who entered the race for the nomination. The leading contenders were Edmund S.
Muskie of Maine, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota and Hubert H. Humphrey
of Minnesota. Other candidates who didn't receive quite as much recognition
were Alabama governor George C. Wallace, Mayor Sam Yorty of Los Angeles, Rep.
Wilbur D. Mills of Arkansas, Sen. Vance Hartke of Indiana, former Senator Eugene
J. McCarthy of Minnesota, Mayor John Lindsay of New York City and Rep. Shirley
Chisholm of New York. Chisholm was the first black to run in a series of
presidential primaries." (Congressional Quarterly, "Guide to U.S. Elections",
Third ed., 1994, pg.603-605.) 5
Governor Wallace had a devastating moment in his campaign while in
Maryland. "In early May a sick young man named Arthur Bremer altered the
politics of 1972. As Governor Wallace campaigned toward certain victory in the
Maryland primary, Bremer stepped forward out of a shopping-center crowd and shot
him four times. Wallace survived, but at the cost of being paralyzed from the
waist down. Maryland's voters surged out on election day to give Wallace a huge
victory, his last of 1972. While Wallace recuperated, the millions who would
have voted for him as a Democratic or independent candidate began to move in
overwhelming proportions behind the candidacy began to move in overwhelming
proportions behind the candidacy of Richard Nixon." (Benton, William. "U.S.
Election of 1972." Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year. pg.12-13, 1973
ed.)1
When the California primary was approaching, Humphrey tried to save the
nomination for himself. "Humphrey excoriated his old senate friend (McGovern)
for his expensive ideas on welfare and his desire to cut the defense budget. It
almost worked. But McGovern won all of California's giant delegation, and beat
Humphrey 44.3% to 39.1% in the popular vote."5 That loss spelled out the end
for Humphrey's Democratic nomination.
Many felt Edmund Muskie was sure to win the Democratic nomination for
the election of 1972. "All political observers agreed on the certainty that
Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine would be the Democratic party's nominee."1 "As
the front-runner, he wanted to snare the nomination early and so was committed
to running in all of the first eight presidential primaries. Prominent
Democratic politicians lined up eagerly to endorse him. Among them: Gov. John
Gilligan of Ohio; Leonard Woodcock, President of the United Auto Workers; Iowa
Senator Harold Hughes; and Pennsylvania Governor Milton Shapp."1 Muskie had
many supporters, and a good chance of receiving the nomination, perhaps even
becoming the next President of the United States. President Nixon knew that
Muskie had a good chance of winning and felt he had to do something to get
Muskie out of the race. Nixon had seven men who were loyal to him make up false
press releases about Muskie, and his wife. These press releases claimed that
Muskie had had affairs with both men and women, that he beat his wife, and then
the topper which claimed that Muskies' wife was an alcoholic. These false
statements destroyed Muskies' campaign and reputation of being a calm
trustworthy candidate. Then one day "mounting the bed of a truck parked outside
the offices of the archconservative Manchester Union Leader, Muskie launched an
attack on the paper's publisher, William Loeb. As he spoke of Loeb's
unflattering remarks about Mrs. Muskie, the senator's voice cracked, and the
crowd saw tears form in his eyes."1 This incident badly dented Muskie's image.
After that event, people saw Muskie as a weak person. They didn't want a weak
person running the country. "Muskie had finished fourth in Pennsylvania, behind
winner Humphrey, Wallace, and McGovern, and a distant second to McGovern in
Massachusetts. He then withdrew with dignity." 1 Muskie later said of this
incident: "It changed people's minds about me, of what kind of a guy I was.
They were looking for a strong, steady man, and here I was weak." "
(Congressional Quarterly, "Chronology of Presidential Elections", Fourth ed.
1994, pg.329-330)6
After a long primary campaign, and all the primary elections, Senator
George McGovern won the nomination for the Democratic party in the 1972
presidential election.