Robert F. Kennedy presidential campaign, 1968

Robert F. Kennedy presidential campaign, 1968

Infobox U.S. federal election campaign, 2008
committee = Robert Kennedy for President 1968

campaign = U.S. presidential election, 1968
candidate = Robert F. Kennedy
U.S. Senator from New York 1965–1968
cand_id = C00431205
fec_date = 2008-01-31
status = Announced March 16, 1968
Ended June 6 1968
affiliation = Democratic Party

Robert F. Kennedy was a U.S. Senator from New York, having won in 1964. In 1968, President Johnson began to run for reelection. In January 1968, faced with what was widely considered an unrealistic race against an incumbent President, Senator Kennedy stated he would not seek the presidency.


After the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, in early February 1968, Kennedy received a letter from writer Pete Hamill (later acclaimed author of the novel "Snow in August"). Hamill wrote an anguished letter to Kennedy noting that poor people kept pictures of John F. Kennedy on their walls and that Robert Kennedy had an "obligation of staying true to whatever it was that put those pictures on those walls." Kennedy traveled to California, to meet with civil rights activist César Chávez who was on a hunger strike.

The weekend before the New Hampshire primary, Kennedy announced to several aides that he would attempt to persuade little-known Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota to withdraw from the presidential race. Johnson won an astonishingly narrow victory in the New Hampshire primary on March 12, 1968, against McCarthy. Kennedy declared his candidacy on March 16, 1968, stating, "I do not run for the Presidency merely to oppose any man, but to propose new policies. I run because I am convinced that this country is on a perilous course and because I have such strong feelings about what must be done, and I feel that I'm obliged to do all I can."

McCarthy supporters angrily denounced Kennedy as an opportunist, and thus the anti-war movement was split between McCarthy and Kennedy. On March 31, 1968, Johnson stunned the nation by dropping out of the race. Vice President Hubert Humphrey, long a champion of labor unions and civil rights, entered the race with the support of the party "establishment," including most members of Congress, mayors, governors and labor unions. He entered the race too late to enter any primaries, but had the support of the president and many Democratic insiders. Robert Kennedy, like his brother before him, planned to win the nomination through popular support in the primaries.


Kennedy stood on a ticket of racial and economic justice, non-aggression in foreign policy, decentralization of power and social improvement. A crucial element to his campaign was an engagement with the young, whom he identified as being the future of a reinvigorated American society based on partnership and equality.

Kennedy's policy objectives did not sit well with the business world, in which he was viewed as something of a fiscal liability, opposed to the tax increases necessary to fund such programs of social improvement. When verbally attacked at a speech he gave during his tour of the universities he was asked, "And who's going to pay for all this, senator?", to which Kennedy replied with typical candor, "You are." It was this intense and frank mode of dialogue with which Kennedy was to continue to engage those whom he viewed as not being traditional allies of Democrat ideals or initiatives.

Civil rights

Robert Kennedy expressed the Administration's commitment to civil rights during a 1961 speech at the University of Georgia Law School: "We will not stand by or be aloof. We will move. I happen to believe that the 1954 Supreme Court school desegregation decision was right. But my belief does not matter. It is the law. Some of you may believe the decision was wrong. That does not matter. It is the law."

In 1961, Attorney General Robert Kennedy authorized the FBI in a written directive to wiretap civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr under the auspice of concern that communists were involved in the Civil Rights Movement. The wire tapping continued through 1967. No evidence of Communist activity or influence was uncovered . Kennedy remained committed to civil rights enforcement to such a degree that he commented, in 1962, that it seemed to envelop almost every area of his public and private life—from prosecuting corrupt southern electoral officials to answering late night calls from Mrs. King concerning the imprisonment of her husband for demonstrations in Alabama. During his tenure as Attorney General he undertook the most energetic and persistent desegregation of the administration that Capitol Hill had ever experienced. He demanded that every area of government begin recruiting realistic levels of black and other ethnic workers, going so far as to criticize Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson for his failure to desegregate his own office staff.

Death penalty

During the John F. Kennedy administration, the U.S. Federal Government carried out the last pre-Furman federal execution (Victor Feguer in Iowa, 1963 [] ) and Robert Kennedy, as Attorney General, represented Government in this case. [ [ The Smoking Gun: Archive ] ]

In 1968 Kennedy expressed his strong willingness to support a bill then under consideration for the abolition of the death penalty.


As his brother's confidant, Kennedy oversaw the CIA's anti-Castro activities after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. He also helped develop the strategy to blockade Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis instead of initiating a military strike that might have led to nuclear war. Kennedy had initially been among the more hawkish elements of the administration on matters concerning Cuban insurrectionary aid. His initial strong support for covert actions in Cuba soon changed to a position of removal from further involvement once he became aware of the CIA's tendency to draw out initiatives and provide itself with almost unchecked authority in matters of foreign covert operations.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis Kennedy proved himself to be a gifted politician, with an ability to obtain compromises from key figures in the hawk camp concerning their position of aggression. The trust the President placed in him on matters of negotiation was such that Robert Kennedy's role in the Crisis is today seen as having been of vital importance in securing a blockade, which averted a full military engagement between the US and Soviet Russia. His clandestine meetings with members of the Soviet government continued to provide a key link to Khrushchev during even the darkest moments of the Crisis, in which the threat of nuclear strikes was considered a very present reality. [ Schlesinger, "The Cuban Connection", Robert Kennedy and His Times]

On the last night of the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy was so grateful for his brother's work in averting nuclear war that he summed it up by saying, "Thank God for Bobby". [ [ Clarity Through Complexity] , October 2000, [] , Retrieved 2007-6-10]


Kennedy was successful in four primaries and McCarthy five; however, in primaries where they campaigned directly against one another, Kennedy won three primaries and McCarthy one.

Indiana and Nebraska Primaries

On March 27, 1968, Kennedy announced from Salt Lake City his desire to compete in Indiana Primary. Aides to Kennedy either advised against such action or told him that a race in Indiana would be an extremely tight race between Senator Kennedy and his rival in the nominating contest Senator Eugene McCarthy. [ cite web| url =| title = KENNEDY TO ENTER INDIANA'S PRIMARY ]

Indiana held its primary on May 7 1968 and a battle ensued between Kennedy, McCarthy, and Branigin for Indiana. However, Kennedy won on Primary night with 42% of the vote [ cite web| url =| title = PBS American Experience ] and claimed momentum going into the Nebraska primary which was to be held on May 14 1968

Claiming momentum and campaigning vigorously in Nebraska, Senator Kennedy hope for a big win to give him momentum going into the California primary, in which Eugene McCarthy held a strong presence. On Primary Night, Senator Robert Kennedy won the Nebraska Primary with 52% of the vote, with McCarthy coming in a distant second place. After the results, Kennedy declared that as McCarthy and Kennedy, both anti-war, managed to earn over 80% of the vote, that Humphrey and Johnson's Vietnam Policy had been repudiated.

California Primary

Coming from Indiana and Nebraska with new found momentum, Senator Kennedy hoped to take California and South Dakota which voted on June 4 1968. Kennedy engaged McCarthy in a series of debates throughout California in hopes of denting McCarthy's strength in California to pull an upset victory in the state.

On June 4, Kennedy won the South Dakota Primary with relative ease and manages to win California with 46% of the vote defeating McCarthy 46% to 42% and claiming the biggest prize in the nominating process as well as a crucial defeat to McCarthy's campaign. [ cite web| url =| title = PBS American Experience ] Around midnight, he addresses supporters at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, confidently promising to heal the many divisions within the country.


main article|Robert F. Kennedy assassinationWhile addressing supporters in the early morning hours of June 5, 1968 in a ballroom at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, he left the ballroom through a service area to greet kitchen workers. In a crowded kitchen passageway, Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian , opened fire with a .22 caliber revolver and shot Kennedy in the head at close range. Following the shooting, Kennedy was rushed to The Good Samaritan Hospital where he died early the next morning. [ [ Slaying gave US a first taste of Mideast terror] ]

, eulogized him with the words, "My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it."

Senator Kennedy concluded his eulogy, paraphrasing his deceased brother Robert by quoting George Bernard Shaw: "Some men see things as they are and say 'Why?' I dream things that never were and say, 'Why not?'"


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