United States presidential election, 1972

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The United States presidential election of 1972 was waged on the issues of radicalism and the Vietnam War. The Democratic nomination was eventually won by George McGovern, who ran an anti-war crusade against incumbent President Richard M. Nixon, but was handicapped by his outsider status, having to drop his vice presidential candidate. Nixon, proclaiming that peace was at hand in Vietnam because of his policies, ridiculed McGovern as the radical candidate of "acid, amnesty, and abortion." The election took place on November 7, 1972. Nixon won the election in a landslide, with a 23.2 percentage points margin of victory in the popular vote, the 4th largest such margin in Presidential election history.

Nominations

Democratic Party nomination

Senate Majority Whip Ted Kennedy had been the favorite to win the 1972 nomination, but his hopes were derailed by his role in the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident. He was not a candidate.

The establishment favorite for the Democratic nomination was Ed Muskie, the moderate who acquitted himself well as the 1968 Democratic vice presidential candidate. In the New Hampshire primary, Muskie gave a speech to defend himself and his wife, Jane, against the claims of the Canuck Letter. The press reported that Muskie was crying during the speech, and this likely caused Muskie to do worse than expected in the primary, while McGovern came in a surprisingly-close second. McGovern now had the momentum, which was well orchestrated by his campaign manager, Gary Hart.

Alabama governor George Wallace, with his "outsider" image, did well in the South (he won every single county in the Florida primary) and among alienated and dissatisfied voters. What might have become a forceful campaign was cut short when Wallace was shot while campaigning, and left paralyzed in an assassination attempt by Arthur Bremer. Wallace did win the Maryland primary, but the shooting incident was effectively the end of his campaign.

In the end, McGovern succeeded in winning the nomination by winning primaries through grass-roots support in spite of establishment opposition. McGovern had led a commission to redesign the Democratic nomination system after the messy and confused nomination struggle and convention of 1968. The fundamental principle of the McGovern Commission—that the Democratic primaries should determine the winner of the Democratic nomination—lasted throughout every subsequent nomination contest. However, the new rules angered many prominent Democrats whose influence was marginalized, and those politicians refused to support McGovern's campaign (some even supporting Nixon instead), leaving the McGovern campaign at a significant disadvantage in funding compared to Nixon.

See also

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