Gene McCarthy was just another senator until he chose to run for president. When he choose to ran he inherited a network of activists put together throughout 1967 ready to do anything they could to dump Johnson. As a result, his campaign would change the course of American history. McCarthy's campaign primarily challenged Johnson on his war and the military, something that had not been done by establishment politicians at that point. A little over three months after McCarthy announced his candidacy for his party's nomination, Johnson, the incumbent president, announced he would not seek nor accept his party's nomination for president. McCarthy continued his anti-war candidacy against opponent Robert F. Kennedy in the primaries until Kennedy's death after the California primary. At the Democratic convention, Eugene McCarthy did not receive his party's nomination, which went to the Vice President Hubert Humphrey who had not run in a single primary. Despite losing the Democratic nomination at the convention, McCarthy's candidacy had a huge effect on the 1968 election and beyond. Eugene McCarthy never stood a chance of becoming president in 1968, but at the same time the minute he announced his campaign he mortally wounded one candidate, and an eventual candidate, Johnson and Humphrey.
Eugene McCarthy was not your typical presidential candidate. He was reluctant to run, campaign, even to allow people to campaign for him. When he announced his candidacy, he was angry someone had spoken to the audience before he arrives, and gave a quick uninspired announcement. The driving forces behind McCarthy's campaign were well dressed intelligent college students who called themselves "Clean for Gene". McCarthy thought he was doing his student workers a favor by allowing them to use his name and prestige in an effort to pursue their own goals. The students still loved him even though he may not necessarily loved them back. The students were just glad to finally have a voice to speak for them and their views, and a man that the entire "Dump Johnson" network could get behind and campaign for. McCarthy did not fully trust some of the people running his campaign on the grassroots level. That's not to say he worked well with the people running his campaign at the national level. McCarthy often baffled his campaign staff by refusing appearances, or canceling appearances when he was forced to do other events. Though while McCarthy half heartedly ran for president, the hard-working, intelligent and clean students that looked up to him were fully dedicated, and the staff that put up with his sometimes frustrating antics wanted Johnson out.
Even without McCarthy campaigning like he wanted to win, he came in a very close second behind Johnson in the New Hampshire. This is when he was first perceived as a serious and very dangerous threat to Johnson's hopes of being re-elected. While Johnson was relying on tactics like creating rumors that North Vietnam was hoping McCarthy would have a strong showing in the New Hampshire primary, McCarthy had more volunteers then that could handle, knocking the door of every Democrat and independent in the state three times. Coming right off the heels of Johnson's near defeat in New Hampshire were Gallup polls showing the publics opinion of Johnson, his approval rating was in the thirties, his large leads on Nixon as well as any primary challenger was fading fast. There was also a poll showing half the country thought it was a mistake to go into Vietnam. Then Robert Kennedy entered the race. Many of McCarthy and Johnson supporters had been hoping for Kennedy to run as a credible challenge to Nixon in 1968 election. Johnson saw the obvious, he was losing popularity fast within his own party, and he had two popular challengers that can and will beat him in the primaries. Nothing was going Johnson's way; the public was going against him, while his opponents had an energized and motivated youthful bases. Johnson on...
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