McCarthy shook up 1968 election with anti-war message

Published 9:16 am Monday, December 12, 2005

By Staff
Former Minnesota Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy, who died Saturday at 89 in Georgetown, ran for president five times, but it's his 1968 campaign that was memorable.
In 1968 the former college professor who spoke out against the Vietnam war challenged President Lyndon B. Johnson for the Democratic nomination, resulting in LBJ's withdrawal from re-election.
Aided by legions of idealistic young people, McCarthy garnered 42 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire primary, embarrassing Johnson, who withdrew from the race and pitched his support to his vice president, Hubert H. Humphrey.
Sen. Robert F. Kennedy of New York also sought the nomination, but was assassinated in Los Angles in June 1968.
McCarthy and his followers pressed on to Chicago, where fellow Minnesotan Humphrey clinched the nomination at a tumultuous convention, both inside the hall and out in the streets.
Humphrey narrowly lost the general election to Richard Nixon.
McCarthy opposed the Vietnam war because “as it went on, you could tell the people running it didn't know what was going on.”
Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota, the Democrats' standard bearer in 1972, said McCarthy's 1968 presidential bid dramatically altered the anti-war movement.
McCarthy ran a second time in 1972, as well as in 1976, 1988 and 1992.
McCarthy was a willing maverick who tweaked whatever establishment held power.
In 1980 the Democrat who was critical of campaign finance reform endorsed Republican Ronald Reagan by arguing that anyone was better than Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter.
In an interview before the 2003 Iraq invasion, McCarthy compared the Bush administration to characters in William Golding's “Lord of the Flies” novel, about boys stranded on an island resorting to savagery.
So convinced was he that there was little difference between Republicans and Democrats that McCarthy advocated a third-party movement.