Los Angeles, California (JFK+50) New York Senator Robert Francis Kennedy*, after having won the Democratic California Primary, was shot in the kitchen pantry at the Ambassador Hotel here in Los Angeles 46 years ago today, June 5, 1968.
The Senator had just spoken to supporters in the hotel's ballroom and left the stage entering the hotel's kitchen pantry. The speech concluded at 12:15 a.m. Pacific, 3:15 a.m. Eastern time.
RFK defeated Senator Eugene J. McCarthy** of Minnesota by 4 percentage points.
The final result was RFK 46% EJM 42%.
The alleged assassin, identified as Sirhan Sirhan, was restrained by Kennedy aides and bystanders. He was shortly taken into custody by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department.***
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.
Senator Eugene McCarthy
**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 four 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. The tally stood at...
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 four 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 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."
***Shane O'Sullivan's "Who Killed Bobby? The Unsolved Murder of Robert F. Kennedy," 2008, argues that many disturbing questions about RFK's death remain unanswered.
While Sirhan's pistol held 8 bullets, for example, audio tests from the only audio recording available made during the shooting suggests that at least 10 shots were fired.
"This new audio evidence seems to vindicate key eyewitnesses like Kennedy aides Paul Schrade and Frank Burns (and others who)...for forty years...have all insisted that Sirhan never got close enough to fire the fatal shot (that hit RFK behind the right ear) described in the autopsy."
"RFK in 1968: a hard struggle against long odds," by Arthur L. Cyr, The Seattle Times, May 28, 2008.
"Who Killed Bobby? The Unsolved Murder of Robert F. Kennedy," by Shane O'Sullivan, Union Square Press, New York, 2008.