January 18

This Day in History

Vietnam War

Jan 18, 1971:

McGovern begins his presidential campaign

In a televised speech, Senator George S. McGovern (D-South Dakota) begins his antiwar campaign for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination by vowing to bring home all U.S. soldiers from Vietnam if he is elected. McGovern won his party's nomination, but was defeated in the general election by incumbent Richard Nixon.

With only 55 percent of the electorate voting--the lowest turnout since 1948--Nixon carried all states but Massachusetts, taking 97 percent of the electoral votes. During the campaign, Nixon pledged to secure "peace with honor" in Vietnam. Aided by the potential for a peace agreement in the ongoing Paris negotiations and the upswing in the American economy, Nixon easily defeated McGovern, an outspoken dove whose party was divided over several issues, including McGovern's extreme views on the war. McGovern said during the campaign, "If I were president, it would take me 24 hours and the stroke of a pen to terminate all military operations in Southeast Asia." He further stated that he would withdraw all American troops within 90 days of taking office, whether or not U.S. POWs were released. To many Americans, including a large number of Democrats, McGovern's position was tantamount to total capitulation in Southeast Asia. Given this alternative, most voters chose Nixon.

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