March 12

This Day in History

Vietnam War

Mar 12, 1968:

McCarthy does well in the Democratic primary

Senator Eugene McCarthy (D-Minnesota), an outspoken critic of the Johnson administration's policies in Vietnam, polls 42 percent of the vote in New Hampshire's Democratic presidential primary. President Lyndon B. Johnson got 48 percent. A Harris poll later showed that anti-Johnson, rather than antiwar, sentiment provided the basis for McCarthy's surprisingly strong performance.

McCarthy had been a contender to be President Lyndon B. Johnson's running mate in the 1964 election, but since then he had become increasingly disenchanted with Johnson's policies in Vietnam and the escalation of the war. In 1967, he published The Limits of Power, an assessment of U.S. foreign policy that was very critical of the Johnson administration. McCarthy announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination in January 1968, saying that he hoped to harness the growing antiwar sentiment in the country, particularly among the young. His showing in the New Hampshire primary astonished most of the political pundits. Johnson, frustrated with his inability to reach a solution in Vietnam and stunned by his narrow victory in New Hampshire, announced on March 31, 1968, that he would neither seek nor accept the nomination of his party for re-election.

The rest of McCarthy's campaign was almost an anticlimax. Senator Robert Kennedy of New York entered the race and won most of the Democratic primaries until his assassination in June. When the Democratic National Convention opened in Chicago, a conflict immediately erupted over the party's Vietnam platform. While demonstrations against the war took place in the streets outside the convention hall, Vice President Hubert Humphrey won the party nomination.

Humphrey was defeated in the general election by Republican Richard Nixon. McCarthy retired from the Senate in 1971, but his surprising showing in the primary was evidence of the strong antiwar sentiment in the country.

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