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Repeat of 1968: Will Clinton Backers Cost Democrat the White House?

09/27/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Judging by the hysterical media coverage of the DNC, one might assume that a legion of Hillary Clinton activists will fail to back, or even vote for, Barack Obama this fall. Some have even compared this to 1968, when many supporters of Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy failed to embrace the Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey, allegedly dooming him to a narrow defeat in November.

As an expert on this matter -- I was one of those who worked for McCarthy in 1968, and failed to campaign for Humphrey (at age 20, I was still too young to vote in those days) -- I'm here to testify this is all bunk.

First, and most importantly, there is no issue dividing the Obama and Clinton forces anything like the Vietnam War in '68. If Obama supported staying in Iraq for decades, and Clinton opposed it -- or vice versa -- then you might imagine something comparable. Nothing like this exists today.

Secondly, there is no question from the polls and the results of the primaries in 1968 that the U.S. public backed the antiwar McCarthy and RFK, who were denied the nomination. Clintonistas may be peeved about the outcome of the nomination process, but cannot point to her clear edge as the Democratic favorite.

Finally, Humphrey was basically the McCain candidate then -- the "four more years" guy who had long supported the Vietnam war. Obama is hardly in that class. Humphrey was given more than two months to win over the peace crowd in '68 but made only tepid attempts. He had only himself to blame for his defeat. Obama may lose but if so it will be a lot more complex than that (race would have a lot to do with it) -- or any failure of Clinton activists to support him.

Note: Here are my reflections here on covering the "police riot" in Chicago in 1968:

Greg Mitchell is editor of Editor & Publisher and author of the new book on Iraq and the media, So Wrong for So Long.

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