Tuesday, June 4, 2013


June 4-5, 2013


Los Angeles, California (JFK+50) SENATOR ROBERT F. KENNEDY* of New York won the crucial 1968 Democratic California Primary held on June 4, 1968,  but after giving a victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel here in Los Angeles was shot by Sirhan Sirhan.

RFK defeated SENATOR EUGENE J. McCARTHY** of Minnesota by 4 percentage points.  The final result was RFK 46% to EJM 42%.

Senator Kennedy's speech ended at 12:15 Pacific time on the morning of June 5th.  

After RFK left the podium, he exited through the hotel kitchen where the shooting occurred.  The alleged assassin was immediately taken into custody.

RFK died on June 6, 1968.  The Senator was 42 years old.

*Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968) was born in Brookline, Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard and the University of Virginia School of Law. 

RFK was manager of JFK's 1952 Senate and 1960 Presidential campaigns.  He served as Attorney General from 1961 to 1964 and as US Senator 1965-1968.

**Eugene J. McCarthy (1916-2005) was born in Watkins, Minnesota and graduated from St. John's University and the University of Minnesota.  He taught in public schools 1935-40  and was professor at St. John's 1940-43.

McCarthy served in the House of Representatives 1949-1959 and in the Senate 1959-1971.  He died of complications of Parkinson's disease in Georgetown.

The victory gave RFK a total of 4 primary wins and a 3 to 1 advantage over McCarthy in head to head contests.

At the time, however, both presidential candidates were trailing VICE-PRESIDENT HUBERT H. HUMPHREY in delegate strength....

HHH 561,  RFK 393,  EM 258.

Kennedy historians Theodore H. White and Arthur M. Schlesinger believed that RFK's victory in California would have given him the momentum to overcome Humphrey's lead at the Chicago convention.

Tom Wicker, Richard Reeves and Larry O'Brien, however, argued that Humphrey's lead most likely would have held.

The road to California began in NEW HAMPSHIRE with Eugene McCarthy's strong showing against PRESIDENT LYNDON B. JOHNSON on March 12, 1968.

While LBJ won the 1st Democratic Primary of 1968, he did so by only 8 percentage points.  The narrow result indicated political problems for the incumbent within in own party.

Just 4 days later, Senator Kennedy announced his presidential candidacy.

LBJ, seeing the handwriting on the wall, announced this shocking decision on the evening of March 31, 1968...

"I will not seek and will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president."

President Johnson's decision resulted in a divided Democratic Party with labor union and party leaders behind Vice President Hubert Humphrey and students, anti-war activists and minorities divided between McCarthy and Kennedy.

Conservative Southern Democrats also formed another coalition.

Arthur L. Syr pointed out in 2008 that the fact Gene McCarthy defeated RFK in the OREGON PRIMARY "is overlooked in most contemporary media recountings of those days," but he goes on to add...

"And yet there is just a chance that RFK could have secured the nomination" or even if he didn't "Humphrey could have picked him for VP."


I agree that the odds against RFK winning the nomination in 1968 were great and, while respecting the opinions of Teddy White and Arthur Schlesinger, tend to support the view that Humphrey would have won the nomination even had RFK not been killed.

I disagree, however, that Humphrey would have picked RFK for VP.  It seems unlikely because HHH was LBJ's VP and the feud between RFK and LBJ would have nixed that possibility.


"RFK in 1968: a hard struggle against long odds," by Arthur L. Cyr, The Seattle Times, May 28, 2008.