11/5/10 - election day

In today's encore excerpt--Election Day, 1968. The Democrat Lyndon Johnson had won the presidency in 1964 in a historic landslide, but only four years later the Republican Richard Nixon eked out a victory over Hubert Humphrey. What accounted for the shift? Alot, most notably civil rights legislation, race riots, and the specter of busing that had given rise to Southern demagogues such as George Wallace. Nixon had won in part by subtly and deftly adopting some of the Southern message:

"The stroke of midnight: Hubert Humphrey was ahead by a point in the popular vote, with four of ten returns counted. In Nixon's familiar old suite at the Waldorf ... [Nixon was] scribbling on yellow pads, working the phones, puzzling out the nation's precincts, the labyrinth that he knew better than any other man alive, as the nation's will slowly, agonizingly revealed itself.

"He knew it by 3:15 a.m.

"The networks weren't sure until well into the 9 a.m. hour.

"Humphrey didn't concede until eleven thirty. In fact, the victory wouldn't be certified for weeks. ...

"[Nixon won] with something no other Republican presidential candidate, with minor exceptions had ever had before: electoral votes from the South. Wallace took Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana. But Nixon got Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina -- and Strom Thurmond's South Carolina.

"George Wallace sent a congratulatory telegram. Nixon never acknowledged it. It spoke to the agony of victory. For it was barely a victory. 301 electoral votes for Nixon and 191 for Humphrey, 46 for George Wallace -- and, in the popular vote, 43.42 percent, 42.72 percent, and 13.53 percent. [Nixon had received] only five or so points more than Barry Goldwater's humiliating share in 1964. With George Wallace claiming that symbolically the victory belonged as much to him as to Nixon: 'Mr. Nixon said the same thing we said,' he declared. If he hadn't, was Wallace's point, Nixon wouldn't have won. And indeed, a few thousand more votes for Wallace in North Carolina and Tennessee, a shift of 1 percent of the vote in New Jersey or Ohio from Nixon to Humphrey, and the election would have been thrown into the House of Representatives, because Nixon wouldn't have won an electoral college majority."


Rick Perlstein


Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America


Scribner a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


Copyright 2008 by Rick Perlstein


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