Eugene McCarthy’s Failed Attempt at Securing the Democratic Party’s Nomination in 1968


Photo Source: USA Today

Eugene McCarthy was a former representative and senator from Minnesota who attempted running for president in 1968. One of McCarthy’s main opponents for the Democratic Party nomination was Robert F. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy’s brother, who was also Catholic. Both McCarthy and Kennedy ultimately lost the Democratic nomination to Hubert Humphrey, and all of whom lost to the Republican nominee, Richard Nixon, in the actual election.

Sifting through news articles from 1967 and 1968 in order to track the 1968 presidential election in more detail, I have found a few articles that I find to be prominent in understanding how Catholicism could have had an impact on McCarthy’s run for president.

Below is a direct link to a PDF.

In The Nation: McCarthy Enters the Game Roman Catholic Three Useful Result

This article was published by the New York Times on December 3, 1967, shortly after Senator Eugene McCarthy entered the 1968 presidential race. The article makes the claim that Senator McCarthy’s entrance into the 1968 presidential race was unprecedented because there had seemingly never been a case to which one could “judge a politician who says he is running for president not to win but on principle.” The article continues to say that McCarthy “so far has given no one any solid grounds for questioning his sincerity.” The beginning of the article is painting a picture that may have gone unnoticed without an article like this as a reference: Eugene McCarthy’s decision to run for president was unprecedented for the time because he was a senator who was not very well-known and was not particularly known as a “crusader for causes.” His decision to run was met by a large concentration of negative assumptions by the people and politicians of Washington D.C. such that he was only running to spite Lyndon Johnson for not choosing him as Vice President or simply to increase his notoriety. The article also mentions briefly his Catholic faith saying that McCarthy “cannot be angling for second place on some possible Kennedy ticket,” which is basically saying that it is not likely that McCarthy’s intentions are just to make it as Kennedy’s Vice President. The end of the article gives three possible positive results that could have come out of McCarthy’s presidential run such as (1) “It could channel a lot of useful energy,” (2) it could cause “picketing of the president” which could ultimately change President Johnson’s administration policies and/or the Democratic Party platform, and (3) it could strengthen anti-war and anti-president sentiments which could strengthen the likelihood of Kennedy’s race.

As for my analysis of whether or not this article makes any preconceptions or unequal treatment towards Catholics in 1968 visible, I would say no. While the article did outline the dissent that many people in D.C. had for McCarthy’s run, nothing stood out to me that would allude to these assumptions being based around his Catholic faith. The allegation that McCarthy could have been running to spite President Johnson for choosing Hubert Humphrey as his Vice President does not seem to be related to McCarthy’s Catholic faith. There is no evidence to conclude that Johnson chose Humphrey over McCarthy because McCarthy was Catholic while neither Humphrey nor Johnson were. It also does not seem as though running for president just to spite President Johnson would have done anything, or even that it was related to being Catholic at all. If anything, the reason people could have assumed such a thing also does not seem to be in relation to his faith. As for an alleged hunger for McCarthy to increase his notoriety, it can also not be concluded from the article that this has anything to do with his Catholic faith, nor can this be related to a preconception or assumption about him simply because he was Catholic. The only item of dissent to McCarthy in this article that I would consider to be an assumption that is somehow related to Catholicism is the claim that McCarthy was running to be a backup for Kennedy. This could be assuming that simply because McCarthy and Kennedy were both Catholic, that McCarthy would run simply so Kennedy would have another Catholic to which he could lose to and feel good about. This can be concluded from the evidence in the article to be highly unlikely because it states that it was “well-known here that the Minnesotan has never been a full-fledged Kennedy fan, and vice versa.” From reading this article, I cannot definitively argue that McCarthy’s Catholicism played absolutely no role in his failed run for president, but I can however, claim that it seemed to play a small role in the beginning of his presidential journey.

Below is a direct link to a PDF.

Southern Democratic Leaders Belittle McCarthy and Kennedy

On the other hand, this article which is also from the New York Times published further into McCarthy’s race on March 17, 1968, contains evidence that McCarthy’s Catholic faith did, in fact, have an effect on at least one area of the electorate. The beginning of the article claims that many Democratic Party leaders in the south were not in favor of the efforts of Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy to secure the Democratic ticket. In an interview with the Democratic state chairman in Alabama, Robert S. Vance, it is said that “the McCarthy-Kennedy viewpoint is virtually nonexistent in the south.” At first glance, this does not seem to relate to their Catholicism, until the article outlined a Mississippi Democrat stating that “[southerners] don’t know much about Gene McCarthy except he’s a Catholic and a professor of some kind.”

To me, this seems like an almost direct relation to McCarthy’s Catholicism and the preconceptions that come along with it. How could it make sense for a voter to have a dissenting opinion on a candidate when the only things they know about them is that they are a professor and a Catholic? This overtly alludes to me that McCarthy’s Catholic faith played a role in the south’s blatant dissent against him. If you only knew two things about a candidate, and you had no existing preconceptions related to those two things, then you would likely not have enough information to form a negative opinion on them. For southern voters to negatively view McCarthy with little information other than that he is Catholic and a professor, then it seems as though the voters either have a negative preconception about professors or Catholics, I wonder which one?


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