As the February 5th California primary approaches we might learn something from looking at how Senator Robert F. Kennedy won the state in 1968 against both Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy and Vice-President Hubert Humphrey (who was not on the ballot but had a stand-in candidate). The following are excerpts from the California campaign chapter of my book, In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, (Columbia, 2001):
California was the most important testing ground for Kennedy's ability to win delegates, and hence the nomination; a loss there would stop his campaign in its tracks. If he produced a victory, the one hundred and seventy-four votes of the California delegation in the winner-take-all primary would place him in a far stronger position going into the convention. A win in California was essential if Kennedy were to use his primary victories to impress upon Democratic power brokers that he was the only candidate who could win for the party in November.
The state was well known for its schizophrenic politics that seesawed back and forth between conservatives and liberals. Despite Ronald Reagan's 1966 gubernatorial victory, (and his jockeying for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 in what the press had dubbed a "non-campaign"), registered Democrats in California outnumbered Republicans by over a million. The notion that California represented a "microcosm" of the nation had been repeated in the news media so often it had become cliché. In 1968, California's more than 10 million inhabitants made it the most populous state in the union. It was also the most ethnically and racially diverse, with large numbers of Asian Americans, African Americans, and Latinos. Californians were employed in all of the significant sectors of the economy, including agriculture, manufacturing, and high-technology industry. The results of the 1968 California primary were the first ever tallied by computer.
Kennedy had strong political allies within a segment of the state's Democratic Party, with Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh leading the way. Unruh had been a consistent voice encouraging Kennedy to enter the race, and a constant source of optimistic predictions for his chances in California. Unruh's organization gave Kennedy a base within the party to influence state and local Democratic officials. Unruh also introduced reforms in the Assembly making it easier for delegates to jump from one slate to another.
What emerged in California was a tough three-way race between Kennedy, Humphrey, and McCarthy. Humphrey had the favor of the pro-Administration Democratic organization, which had been weakened by Unruh's defection, but still controlled the party coffers. McCarthy, as he had demonstrated in Oregon, was a force on the college campuses, and popular with independents, Republicans, and swing voters of the middle-class suburbs. Kennedy's strength primarily lay with the state's minority populations, and with low-income and working-class whites.
Representing the forces allied with President Johnson and Vice President Humphrey was a slate headed by California's Attorney General, Thomas Lynch. On March 31, 1968, when Johnson surprisingly removed himself from the race, the Lynch slate was thrown into disarray, and suffered some significant defections to the Kennedy camp. For example, two days after Johnson's announcement, California Representatives John Tunney and Robert Leggett, announced in Washington that they were seizing the opportunity to leave the Lynch slate and join Kennedy. The day after Johnson withdrew, there were also reports in the Los Angeles Times and other California newspapers that McCarthy supporters were moving to the Kennedy camp. Kennedy successfully peeled off other former Lynch delegates, including one who became the statewide vice chairman of the California "Kennedy for President" campaign. These shifts of allegiance strengthened Kennedy's chances, and reflected the new political environment following Johnson's withdrawal.
On April 3, 1968, the same day Kennedy and Johnson conferred in the White House, high-level members of the Lynch delegation met in Sacramento to plan their response to the President's withdrawal, and decided they would wait and see if Humphrey needed them or possibly draft Johnson. The delegation was eventually re-configured into a weaker slate of candidates representing Humphrey, who had not been on the ballot, but formally declared his candidacy on April 27.
After discerning that Unruh's people failed at the tasks of voter registration, and neglected to organize blacks and Latinos, Kennedy sent in his own campaign team. The parallel Kennedy campaign organization worked within Democratic Party structures, and cultivated ties with party officials wherever possible, while jealously guarding its financial and tactical autonomy. Like John Kennedy's primary campaign's of 1960, which had relied on organizations outside formal party networks, Robert Kennedy's 1968 campaign had a high degree of independence and flexibility.
But Kennedy's strongest sources of support were to be found outside both party institutions and the Unruh machine. His most significant political bases in the state were located in the Latino, African-American, and white working-class districts, concentrated heavily in the Los Angeles area, but dispersed in other cities throughout the state, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area. He also cultivated ties to the Asian-American communities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, with the assistance of March Fong who later became California's Secretary of State. Kennedy had demanded that his staff concentrate great attention on organizing white working-class neighborhoods, the inner cities, the barrios, and migrant farmworker communities.
As with all the other primaries in which Kennedy was a candidate, central to the campaign's California strategy was to register and get to the polls as many minorities and low-income whites as possible. Kennedy's political aides assessed McCarthy's strength in the suburbs, and had determined the only way Kennedy could win would be to carry the enormous minority districts of Los Angeles County. The Latino neighborhoods of East Los Angeles, and the African-American Watts-Willowbrook area were the focus of intense mobilizing and voter registration.
The campaign set up its headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard in the heart of Los Angeles. Kennedy repeatedly toured the state, and tried to hit repeatedly each of its three main media markets: Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco. He would sometimes fly from Los Angeles to the Bay Area and back again in a single day, which allowed his appearances to be shown on local newscasts in both northern and southern California. His motorcades drew unruly crowds, and his neighborhood tours often ran as the lead story. Jerry Bruno, who had been John Kennedy's advanceman, had a well-earned reputation for producing highly successful mob scenes at campaign stops. So enthusiastic were the crowds who swarmed around Kennedy's motorcades in Latino and black neighborhoods, campaign aides feared he would lose white votes if he became overly identified with the aspirations of ethnic minorities.
Kennedy's prospects for winning depended upon grass-roots participation, and aggressive voter-registration drives in neighborhoods where poverty and unemployment were the key issues. Yet he did not rely exclusively on the state's lower-income groups and racial minorities. The campaign formed dozens of influential state-level committees of professors, students, law enforcement officials, clergy, and educators. In May 1968, as the campaign unfolded, Kennedy's experienced press personnel, led by Frank Mankiewicz and Pierre Salinger, issued daily press releases announcing the formation of new committees, and endorsements, which gave the impression a bandwagon rolled along.
Moreover, the campaign almost daily released new proposals on a wide-ranging set of issues, including race relations, poverty, economic policy, pollution, law enforcement, and the war in Vietnam. Neither the Lynch ticket, nor the McCarthy campaign, could keep up with the sheer volume of Kennedy's press releases, policy statements, and committee announcements. In addition, there were several high-profile defectors from the McCarthy campaign, some of whom became disillusioned by McCarthy's apparent willingness to join forces with Humphrey to stop Kennedy; Mankiewicz and Salinger made the most of these cases.
In California, Latinos comprised the state's largest single minority, and they were central to the campaign's coalition-building efforts, and to the candidate's chances for victory. The leader of the United Farm Workers union (U.F.W.), Cesar Chavez, proved invaluable after unleashing his small army of organizers, canvassers, and get-out-the-vote activists for Kennedy. He became a Kennedy delegate and state-level campaign official. In an extraordinary move, Chavez temporarily suspended the U.F.W.'s strike and national grape boycott, thereby freeing his unionists to dedicate their time and energy to the Kennedy campaign.
Under Chavez's leadership, the thirteen-thousand-member U.F.W., based in Delano, California, had organized a bitter struggle against California's politically powerful agricultural interests. The union received help from an idealistic network of young volunteers from the college campuses, and from progressive Catholic clergy who played an important role in aiding migrant workers at the local level. As of 1968, California's growers were tenacious in refusing to recognize the union, and the conflict had become a tense stalemate.
By 1968, Cesar Chavez had become far more than a labor organizer; he was a Latino cultural leader who, like Martin Luther King, Jr., promoted the Gandhian principles of nonviolent civil disobedience. Latinos throughout California, Texas, and the Southwest looked to him as their national leader. Chavez's dedication to non-violence, and his selfless stands against the injustices suffered by the campesinos in the grape, strawberry, and lettuce fields of California's fertile San Joaquin and Salinas Valleys, earned him the admiration of tens of thousands of people nationwide.
In February 1968, after several violent clashes with the police and private security guards, Chavez began a fast in the name of non-violence to refocus the energies of his supporters on peaceful protest. As Chavez's hunger strike stretched over twenty days, and weakened him severely, letters from concerned farmworkers flooded Kennedy's office asking the Senator to return to Delano, and persuade their leader to end his fast. Some of the U.F.W. letter-writers described their fatigue after two-and-a-half years of striking, others were primarily concerned with Chavez's health, while still others wished to share their common ideals with Kennedy. Most of the letters were written in Spanish. "Dear Brother Kennedy," a typical U.F.W. letter began:
I am a farmworker from Delano, California, and I am writing [sic] to you to ask for help, because we know you are familiar with our strike and our efforts to organize ourselves into a union and win justice for all farmworkers in our country.
Now, we have a problem which is disturbing [sic] us greatly, our leader Cesar Chavez has gone on a hunger fast to bring the issue of non-violence across to people, not only in organizing our union, but non-violence in general. . . .
We feel that if you come it would cause worldwide attention to the subject of non-violence and therefore persuade Cesar to discontinue his hunger fast.
We would appreciate it from the bottom of our heart[s].
Several farmworkers made direct connections between their struggle for justice in the fields, and the aspirations of other aggrieved groups. A member of the U.F.W. Organizing Committee wrote Kennedy that Chavez fasted "to let everyone in this country know that we can accomplish many things without violence, not only in organizing our farm worker union, but elsewhere including [the] Vietnam and Civil Rights Movements."
On March 10, 1968, six days before Kennedy formally announced his presidential candidacy, he returned to Delano to break bread at a Catholic service with Chavez, who was now willing to end his twenty-five day fast. Chavez was so weak he had to be carried to the site on a stretcher, and sat in a lawn chair throughout the ceremony. The event, held outdoors in the Central Valley's sweltering sun, gained national media attention largely because of Kennedy's presence. "I was pleased and proud to go to Delano," Kennedy wrote a constituent after the trip, "to honor a great man, an heroic figure of our time, Cesar Chavez. His non-violent struggle for the rights of the migrant worker is a great achievement which will afford Americans of Mexican descent the full participation in our society which they deserve."
When Kennedy declared his candidacy, Chavez and the U.F.W. threw themselves into mobilizing the Latino communities in California for Kennedy. "For every man we had working for John Kennedy" in 1960, Chavez later recalled, "we had fifty men working for Bobby. It was electrifying. The polls will show you. That line is very seldom crossed." It was a product, he added, of "respect, admiration, [and] love." A bilingual Kennedy campaign pamphlet quoted Chavez: "Senator Robert F. Kennedy is a man whose many selfless acts on behalf of struggling farm workers have been expressions of love through practical deeds. Senator Kennedy came at a time when our cause was very hard pressed and we were surrounded by powerful enemies who did not hesitate to viciously attack anyone who was courageous enough to help us. He did not stop to ask whether it would be politically wise for him to come . . . nor did he stop to worry about the color of our skin, . . . or what languages we speak. . . . We know from our experience that he cares, he understands, and he acts with compassion and courage."
Other prominent leaders of Latino communities throughout California came forward with offers of help. In addition to Chavez, Bert Corona of the Mexican-American Political Association (M.A.P.A.), who had been a labor organizer since the early C.I.O. days, joined the campaign. Professor Ralph Guzman, the head of the Mexican-American Study Project at the University of California, Los Angeles also signed on. "Please make certain that I and other Chicanos are not left out," Guzman wrote Mankiewicz. "We have a hell of a lot of young Chicano power that identifies with the Senator. . . .We need Senator Robert F. Kennedy and he needs us." Guzman became a Kennedy delegate and state-level campaign official.
Corona's M.A.P.A. organization, which had origins in the "Viva Kennedy" groups of John Kennedy's 1960 campaign, gave the campaign four of its top organizers, people whom Kennedy's aides considered "real pros" who could "go into an area containing large numbers of Mexican-Americans, and in a very short time have a solid organization." Corona's public endorsement of Kennedy concluded: "We, the Mexican-American and other Spanish-speaking peoples know and have confidence that Bob Kennedy can lead us from the disastrous road, and to the new direction with honest, courageous and effective solutions for our critical problems. He has shown his ability to do so. He has shown his loyalty to our needs and aspirations. We need Bob Kennedy for President."
Corona and M.A.P.A. had the power to press politicians from Latino communities to reconsider their backing of the pro-Humphrey Lynch slate. For example, Corona believed that Congressman Ed Roybal, who was a Lynch delegate, could "be persuaded to back RFK publicly," because Roybal "desperately need[ed] the active support of MAPA to survive politically," and "he would be 'finished' if he sided with Humphrey." Roybal, the incumbent Democrat, ran unopposed in the primary, but the Roybal case illustrates the Kennedy campaign's use of its grass-roots political base inside local communities to put the heat on leaders. Corona had large numbers of Mexican-American student volunteers who dedicated their efforts to voter registration drives in behalf of Kennedy. He also proposed to the campaign a number of organizing strategies, including a Spanish-language radio and television blitz, as well as an intensive door-to-door Get-Out-the-Vote effort.
Volunteers set up a group of seventy-five Latino youths in the 21st Congressional District in Los Angeles to galvanize support for Kennedy. They also organized African Americans in the district, an example of black and Latino solidarity for Kennedy. Reports came back to the campaign that there had been "the most astounding outpouring of volunteer help" in many districts, which required the then innovative practice of tracking names on computer punch cards. By the first week of April, the Kennedy campaign headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard, as well as the national headquarters in Washington, D.C., received reports that thousands of Latino farmworkers were being added to the voter registration rolls in the San Joaqin Valley. Latinos were also involved in trying to compete with McCarthy at colleges and universities. Chavez himself spoke in support of Kennedy on several California campuses.
Kennedy's Catholicism might have been a political liability in some areas of the country, but when it came to wooing support from the Latino communities in California, it was a definite asset. Chavez later said that every time Kennedy was "put down for being a Catholic this made points with the Mexicans who are all Catholic." Kennedy was by far the most prominent national figure to carry the farmworkers' cause, and his common faith added greatly to his appeal among Latinos. He admired Chavez and the union, and articulated the righteousness of their struggle in a language concordant with the progressive wing of the Catholic Church. Latinos looked on him "as sort of the minority kind of person himself," Chavez said, and therefore "with Senator Kennedy it was like he was ours."
With regard to the overall campaign, in early May, California newspapers reported that Jesse Unruh had appointed his own people to key positions in Kennedy's organization, cut off debate on how campaign money should be spent, and made other vital decisions without consulting delegates. There was even speculation that Unruh's unilateral moves were directly related to his own future gubernatorial ambitions. Kennedy's aides were determined to make certain that Unruh did not become the equivalent in California of what Edith Green had been in Oregon. The candidate quickly dispatched his brother-in-law, Steve Smith, Kenneth O'Donnell, and other political professionals to surpass the limitations of the Unruh structure, and to regain operational control.
The Unruh group had focused more attention on courting party stalwarts, than on mobilizing citizens at the grass roots. Soon, complaints began circulating which indicated disaffection with this strategy. The N.A.A.C.P. was "very unhappy" with the Kennedy office in Los Angeles for not having "a paid Negro on the staff," and offered the campaign advice on how to rectify the situation. Unruh's machine had neglected black and Latino voters, the two groups that campaign strategists well understood would make or break Kennedy's chances of winning. It was relayed to the Kennedy headquarters in Washington that the campaign desperately "need[ed] someone to head up the minority groups." "[A]s far as the organization goes in California," one memo stated, "the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing."
Unruh reported his sense that a significant segment of the "LBJ vote [was] peeling off largely to McCarthy." He believed that Kennedy was so far out in front on "minority group issues," that the "hawks shift[ed] to [the] race issue," and were "go[ing] with McCarthy." This interpretation explained Unruh's reluctance to curry favor from blacks and Latinos. Some pro-war Democrats were so fearful of Kennedy's strong identification with minorities, that they backed the peace candidate McCarthy, rather than help Kennedy advance the cause of blacks and browns.
There were conflicting views among Kennedy's allies in California about how to win the McCarthy vote. On April 30, Mankiewicz shared some of his strategy ideas with Steve Smith. The Press Secretary suggested "play[ing] the Humphrey menace strongly (all the money, Big Labor, Southern governors, Wall Street)," which he believed would "have the effect of driving McCarthy voters to us, particularly if Indiana had show[ed] them that McCarthy is somewhat a lost cause." The "ideal" for the Kennedy campaign, Mankiewicz speculated, would be if Lynch and McCarthy each won 25 percent of the California vote, and Kennedy walked away with the other 50 percent. This was an extraordinarily optimistic scenario.
Conceding that McCarthy was stronger among white, middle-class youth, the campaign tapped young people in African-American and Latino communities. "Ghetto youth can be mobilized for voter registration and organization of neighborhood groups," a planning memo stated, and "provide the Senator with opportunities to talk and meet with kids from the central cities to discuss their problems and hopes." The campaign sought to harness the energies of young blacks, many of whom at that time drifted away from peaceful protest and participatory democracy toward a politics of separatism and violence.
The Youth and Student Division came under intense pressure to enlarge its base. It even reached out for support in the heart of the counterculture. "Students for Kennedy" organized a free "Rock Rally" in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park billed as "America's first political happening. Admission is free. No speeches. No apple pie." The young activists promised appearances by Sonny and Cher, "a bevy of rock groups," and a number of "surprise guests." "Free oranges, apples and balloons will be served," a Youth for Kennedy spokesperson announced. The Kennedy forces made every possible effort to compete with McCarthy among young people with a degree of success.
To compete with McCarthy at colleges and universities, the campaign formed an "Academicians for Kennedy" committee with Professor Seymour Harris of the University of California at San Diego as the head of its steering committee. Harris claimed a force of "over 450 college and university faculty members from every part of the state," whose ranks were "swelling daily." He was convinced that Kennedy's stands on "the critical issues of the day -- the crisis in our cities and the war in Vietnam" could be "translated into effective national action." The committee had coordinators in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, and also included scholars from the Rand Corporation.
Enlisting support from labor unions proved more difficult than youth for the Kennedy campaign. When a vice president of the United Steel Workers union, Thomas Consiglio, endorsed Kennedy, A.F.L.-C.I.O. President George Meany, who served on the national "Humphrey for President" Committee, ordered him to rescind his statement, and forbade him to affix his name to the Kennedy delegate slate. Meany blocked by decree Consiglio's endorsement of Kennedy, saying it had not been approved by the official union leadership, and therefore could be falsely construed as coming from the entire steel workers union. This charge illustrated the pressure unionists, even executives, were under from the national leadership. By backing down, Consiglio showed union members the extent of Meany's ironclad control of political endorsements. These efforts of Meany and other pro-Administration union leaders to enforce discipline led Kennedy's supporters to criticize the Vice President's ties to "Big Labor."
Kennedy, whose major constituency was working-class whites, could credibly indict the undemocratic practices of labor leaders like Meany, as well as their support for the Vietnam War. There was never a rank-and-file referendum on whether or not the A.F.L.-C.I.O. should promote the war, yet that was what the leadership had done for years. Kennedy's labor support percolated up from the grass roots, not down from the union hierarchy. Despite his problems with the Teamsters Union dating back to the 1950s when he doggedly pursued Jimmy Hoffa on corruption charges, Kennedy had the enthusiastic backing of a small, but extremely active coterie of labor unionists. Among them were Cesar Chavez, U.A.W. President Walter Reuther, Bert Corona, and Paul Schrade of the ninety-thousand-member United Auto and Aerospace Workers Union, for which he served as Western Regional Director.
Given Humphrey's success in garnering support from the highest echelons of organized labor, Kennedy's allies confronted the Vice President with a direct political and public relations challenge. Unruh had repeatedly offered to introduce legislation in the California Assembly permitting Humphrey to place his name belatedly on the ballot. This reform would allow the Democrats who were already pledged to one of the three delegate slates to switch to Humphrey if they desired, thereby eliminating the need for Lynch to serve as the stand-in candidate. Humphrey concluded that it was not in his personal political interest to argue the Administration's case for continuing the Vietnam War to the Democratic voters of the nation's most populous state. Instead, he waited out the primaries while helping Lynch and McCarthy behind the scenes to block Kennedy. On April 27, when Humphrey formally announced his candidacy, Unruh responded: "I am particularly pleased he is running because the Johnson Administration needs a spokesman in this campaign, someone to defend and explain the Administration's policies at home and abroad. . . . I regret, however, that the Vice President has decided not to test his vote-getting ability in the California primary, or to accept my offer to introduce legislation which would make it possible for him to place a delegation pledged to him by name on the ballot."
On May 22, Kennedy said in San Francisco that the Democratic Party must not ignore the "new politics" of mass citizen involvement. He acknowledged that this "new politics" could not dominate the Democratic National Convention, but warned "to disregard it would be a great mistake for the Democratic Party." Kennedy described himself and McCarthy as the two chief exponents of participatory democracy, and pointed to their combined victories in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Washington, D.C., Indiana, and Nebraska. When coupling Kennedy's and McCarthy's vote totals against Johnson's and Humphrey's, people power had won by a five-to-one margin, he said. Kennedy's analysis was in part an olive branch to the McCarthy campaign, which he credited as being part of this new coalition.
Humphrey, by taking himself out of the primaries at a time of intraparty polarization, had limited his effectiveness in tapping local community action groups, particularly in the cities. The Vice President distanced himself from the post-Kerner Commission debate on race relations, believing that the endorsements from the leadership of the mainstream civil rights organizations would suffice. Civil rights had been one of Humphrey's strengths, but with his reluctance to compete directly with Kennedy for African-American votes in the primaries, he gave the impression that he had conceded, at least for the time being, that Kennedy was more popular among blacks.
McCarthy, on the other hand, seemed disinterested in minority issues, and the black and Latino communities in California understood this. Gerald Hill, who was co-chair of the McCarthy campaign in California acknowledged Kennedy's gaping lead among minorities, but he dismissed it as a product of "the celebrity factor." These sentiments, along with McCarthy's statement in Oregon that Kennedy's supporters were "less intelligent" than his own, angered African American and Latino community leaders, and strengthened Kennedy's appeal. In Latino neighborhoods, tensions ran high between Kennedy partisans and a tiny group of McCarthy followers. After seeing about twenty Latinos marching with McCarthy placards in East Los Angeles, Cesar Chavez recalled, "There must have been about a thousand people ready to skin them." The McCarthy people did something "stupid," in Chavez's view, "you don't do that in East L.A. or any place where there's blacks and browns"; the U.F.W. considered them "traitors."
In California, the Kennedy campaign gained momentum. It peeled off mainstream Democrats, recruited community activists, formed committees of specific occupational, professional, or social groups, and lined up endorsements from diverse corners of the state's political world. In response, the Humphrey and McCarthy campaigns moved closer to one another, and took on the aura of a stop Kennedy movement. Humphrey wished to avoid a floor fight with Kennedy at the Democratic National Convention, and eliminating him in California accomplished this goal.
Despite the backing of the D.N.C., the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and nearly a thousand delegates, the Humphrey camp still feared Kennedy. No matter how many delegates the Vice President brought with him to Chicago, Kennedy could mount a formidable challenge. Few delegations were bound by the "unit rule," which required a slate to vote for only one candidate, and there remained the possibility that Kennedy might cut deals and cannibalize state delegations, thereby dividing the Humphrey forces. Kennedy's close fellowship with Mayor Daley of Chicago also posed a threat to Humphrey, since Daley not only controlled the Illinois delegation, but the voting schedule of the convention. If Kennedy successfully blocked Humphrey on the first ballot, (and with Daley's help this was a distinct possibility), then no matter how many delegates Humphrey ostensibly commanded, his position would probably weaken with each consecutive ballot.
Furthermore, Humphrey and his advisers understood that Kennedy had surrounded himself with talented political professionals who had served President Kennedy, including Kenneth O'Donnell, Lawrence O'Brien, Frederick Dutton, Steve Smith, Richard Goodwin, Pierre Salinger, and Theodore Sorensen. Robert Kennedy himself had been his brother's campaign manager, and surprised many more experienced politicians with his ability to maneuver at the 1960 Los Angeles convention. The Humphrey campaign knew that any convention fight with Kennedy would be difficult, and therefore wished to finish him off in California before he picked up too much momentum.
The Johnson Administration helped Humphrey in countless ways. It allowed the Vice President to take vicarious credit for the slightest progress in the start of Vietnam peace talks that lumbered along in Paris. In addition, in the weeks before the California voting, J. Edgar Hoover and his F.B.I. leaked documents to the press revealing that Kennedy, as Attorney General in 1962, had approved a Hoover request to wiretap Martin Luther King, Jr. Hoover tried to drive a wedge between Kennedy and his African-American constituency. But aside from generating some criticism from pro-Johnson journalists, (such as Drew Pearson who had never masked his antipathy for Kennedy), the flap was politically inconsequential; Kennedy's black support held despite the disclosure, which originated from a source not known for friendliness toward African Americans. The incident only illustrated the underhanded extremes to which the Administration would go to slow Kennedy's impetus.
After Kennedy lost Oregon he appeared vulnerable, and McCarthy's deep personal dislike for him surfaced. McCarthy already had publicly promised to fight Kennedy all the way to Chicago, and hinted that he might throw his delegates to Humphrey. He also seemed unfazed when people left his campaign in protest of what they perceived as McCarthy's backpedaling on the war issue, while he dedicated himself to spoiling Kennedy's chances.
Humphrey and McCarthy had a good opportunity in California to knock Kennedy out of the race. Humphrey's behind-the-scenes efforts on behalf of both Lynch and McCarthy pressed Kennedy to seek even stronger ties to grass-roots community organizations, and made the campaign all the more dependent on local activists. By the end of May, the Kennedy campaign pitted volunteer community activists against the California and national party machinery, the pro-war labor union bureaucracy, and the McCarthy campaign. Kennedy responded, in part, to these challenges by shoring up his bearing among mainstream voters.
In reply to those who argued that Kennedy was too young, unpredictable, and left wing to be president, the campaign recruited high-profile former Defense and State Department officials. Kennedy received dozens of endorsements of past officials of the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations. The former Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, Roger Hilsman, who had been an architect of some of the failed policies in Vietnam of the early 1960s, now opposed U.S. policy and signed on with Kennedy. Edwin Reischauer, the Harvard professor and former U.S. Ambassador to Japan under Kennedy and Johnson, who was known as an authority on Asia, flew out to California to speak on Kennedy's behalf. Roswell Gilpatrick, a former Deputy Secretary of Defense appointed by President Kennedy, also came to California in support of Kennedy's candidacy.
Kennedy's most controversial endorsement from a national security official came from former Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, who was then president of the World Bank. Appearing in a taped interview with Theodore Sorensen, McNamara praised Kennedy's skills as a foreign policy crisis manager during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy's repeated post-Tet denunciations of U.S. Vietnam policy had established him so clearly as a peace candidate, that the campaign gambled he could afford to shore up his right wing with a statement from McNamara. He had remained a close friend of McNamara's throughout the period of the U.S. military build up in Vietnam. It was a friendship that some of the Senator's advisers found confusing, given his strong disagreement with the policies that McNamara had consistently defended. Many peace activists and McCarthy supporters, who had fought these policies for years, put forth a convincing case against Kennedy's willingness to accept McNamara's backing; some of them considered the Defense Secretary a war criminal. The McNamara endorsement aimed to woo moderate voters.
Among representatives of the business community, Kennedy's strong identification with blacks, Latinos, and low-income whites, along with his belief in an activist government and pro-labor record, made him, according to opinion polls, the least favorite candidate. To allay these fears, and show capital he could be trusted, the campaign assembled "Business for Kennedy." A vice president of the San Francisco-based Golden Grain/Ghirardelli corporation headed the committee, which included about forty business owners throughout the state. However, compared to Humphrey's business and Wall Street ties, which included two of the most powerful investment bankers in New York who raised funds for his campaign, Kennedy had a thin base of support in the private sector.
The calculated promoting of Kennedy's law and order experience to win the votes of moderates and conservatives generated some division within the ranks of the campaign. O'Donnell had advised "scrapping" the idea of a "Law Enforcement" committee, because he figured Kennedy had "enough of an image in this area." In May, Thomas Sheridan, who was the chief counsel for the McCone Commission, which Governor Brown had appointed to investigate the causes of the 1965 Watts riot, created the "California Law Enforcement" committee for Kennedy. Sheridan backed Kennedy, among other reasons, because of his local support in the riot-prone black communities of California. Joining the committee were police chiefs, lawyers (some of whom had served under Kennedy in the Justice Department), criminology professors, and local district attorneys from across the state.
Although former California Governor Brown had declared himself a Humphrey partisan, the Kennedy campaign continued to peel off Democrats who had served under him. On May 22, the same day Brown endorsed Humphrey, the campaign announced that twenty-one key leaders of Brown's administration now openly backed Kennedy. Five days later, the campaign released a list of some twenty more people, whom Brown had appointed to state agencies, who now endorsed Kennedy. One former Brown appointee, Rafer Johnson, was a 1960 Olympic gold medalist who had served on Brown's State Recreation Commission, and headed an "Athlete's for Kennedy" committee. Among the events Johnson organized for Kennedy was a "tennis clinic" in Oakland featuring the African-American tennis star, Arthur Ashe, along with San Francisco columnist Herb Caen and author George Plimpton. Johnson often accompanied Kennedy on tours through black communities, along with the Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman, Roosevelt Grier.
Thomas Braden, who had served for seven years as president of the State Board of Education under Governor Brown, publicly asserted there were more Brown appointees helping Kennedy than Humphrey. Regarding Brown's advocacy of Humphrey, Braden said: "it allies him with the old coalition -- Southerners, Big Labor, and back-room politicians," and "it offers further proof that the Vice President is attempting to put together a campaign organization in California without admitting it publicly." The wording of Braden's announcement mirrored a memo that Sorensen had circulated among Kennedy campaign officials. Sorensen argued that Humphrey enlisted support from "the special interest lobbies from Wall Street to oil and the major Republican newspapers," and that "this unholy alliance" played "right into Nixon's hands."
Frank Mankiewicz, who had served as President Kennedy's Peace Corps coordinator for Latin America, organized a "Community Action for Kennedy" committee, which was primarily composed of former Peace Corps and Vista volunteers, and other "action-oriented" young people. Some of the Peace Corps veterans had worked with Mankiewicz, others had lived in Asia and Africa; the Vista volunteers had assisted anti-poverty programs in American cities, on Indian reservations, and in depressed rural regions. "We have worked in the underdeveloped countries of the world, and the underdeveloped parts of America," an organizer announced, and "Senator Kennedy, of all the candidates, is attuned to the needs and the feelings of the people."
The campaign organized a "Clergy for Kennedy" committee, which included Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish clergy and laity who had been active in the civil rights and peace movements. The group brought together clerics as well as professors of theology. Announcing the committee, a Lutheran member said that Kennedy "has demonstrated a capacity for compassion, and for moral leadership which makes demands on complacent consciences. He has earned our support." "Clergy for Kennedy" illustrated the campaign's ability to utilize existing networks of progressive religionists.
The president of the Baptist Ministers' Unions of the San Francisco Bay Area, Reverend G. L. Bedford, endorsed Kennedy. The New York Senator had shown "a concern for the poor peoples of this nation unparalleled by any other government leader." Speaking for a group of some seventy-five clergy and lay people, a professor from the Pacific School of Religion said Kennedy displayed a leadership which "harmonizes understanding and compassion, tough minded commitment to administrative realities, and loving appreciation of the ideals we all share."
Michael Harrington, the democratic socialist and author of The Other America, flew to California to campaign for Kennedy at several events. John Fell Stevenson, the son of the late Presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson, also backed Kennedy. On May 21, the campaign unveiled its "Hollywood for Kennedy" committee, which was chaired by singer Andy Williams. McCarthy had the support of the actors Paul Newman and Dustin Hoffman, but Kennedy had clearly won the Hollywood celebrity count. Included on the Kennedy committee, among many others, were: Lauren Bacall, Otto Preminger, Mahalia Jackson, Sidney Portier, Janet Leigh, Connie Stevens, Shelley Winters, Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayworth, Kim Novak, Trini Lopez, Milton Berle, Henry Mancini, Elizabeth Montgomery, and Marlo Thomas.
Kennedy could count on well-known actors and entertainers who shared his views on the war and on race relations. The campaign organized two "Kennedy for President" galas, one at the Los Angeles Sports Arena on May 24, the other at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium on June 1. These "star-studded," nationally televised events gave Kennedy added exposure inside the "media state." A unique tactical alliance developed between California's exorbitantly wealthy celebrity class, and some of the poorest, most dispossessed people of the state. Kennedy's enlistment of the Hollywood elite built on his family ties to the entertainment industry dating back to the 1920s, and helped craft the image that he might restore to the White House some of the glamour of Camelot.
The campaign established a committee to handle the large number of women who wished to work for Kennedy. Diane Feinstein, who later became Mayor of San Francisco and a United States Senator from California, chaired the Northern California "Women for Kennedy" committee; she organized several fund raisers in the Bay Area. Kennedy's sisters Jean, Patricia, and Eunice, and his mother, Rose Kennedy, attended largely female events throughout the state. Feinstein said that hundreds of women contacted her office in a matter of days offering to volunteer for the campaign. She attributed this outpouring of support to "their recognition of the contributions made by the women of the Kennedy family; . . . the interest of women in this area has been truly amazing," she said.
When San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto called Vice President Humphrey "the best qualified candidate to deal with the problems of cities," four Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco signed a joint statement endorsing Kennedy. Supervisors Roger Boas, John Ertola, Robert Mendelsohn, and Ronald Pelosi stated: Senator Kennedy "wag[ed] his war on urban blight out of conviction and concern. . . . While Robert Kennedy was demanding priority for the cities, Hubert Humphrey was demanding priority for an Asian land war."
On May 30, Kennedy led his presidential campaign on a short "whistle-stop" railroad tour through the San Joaquin Valley, the state's agricultural heartland. The daylong train ride started in Fresno, and stopped in the rural towns of Madera, Merced, Turlock, Modesto, Stockton, and Lodi on its way to the state capitol in Sacramento. Like his tours of rural Indiana, Nebraska, and upstate New York, these were places where such attention from a presidential candidate was a highly unusual event that drew large crowds.
Against the advice of his younger advisers, Kennedy had chosen to ignore McCarthy's repeated challenges to debate, and said he would only debate McCarthy if Humphrey also participated. However, after losing in Oregon it became clear that Kennedy no longer had the luxury of avoiding the Minnesotan, and he agreed to a joint television appearance. Prior to the event, which was scheduled for June 1 in San Francisco, Kennedy campaign staffers circulated a memo saying that "the only real difference between RFK and McCarthy on the issues" was that Kennedy had made "twenty specific proposals on each issue," whereas McCarthy "is always vague [and] never specific." The charge was overstated, but McCarthy had said little about the crisis in America's cities, aside from calling for implementing the Kerner Commission's recommendations. Kennedy attempted to expose his opponent's apparent lack of interest in the nation's racial tensions, while displaying his own grasp of what needed to be done.
The two candidates generally agreed on the necessity of United States disengagement from Vietnam; their differences lay in the details for a peace settlement. In March 1967, Kennedy had offered a set of guidelines to end U.S. military involvement, and a detailed outline of the roles of the United Nations and the International Control Commission. He presented the problems involved in maintaining a cease-fire, and offered a prescription for a phased withdrawal of American troops. He had elaborated on these proposals in To Seek A Newer World, which was published in November 1967, as well as in lengthy speeches throughout his presidential campaign. McCarthy had offered proposals for peace in Vietnam that were generally more vague than Kennedy's. He tended to place the Southeast Asian conflict into the wider contradictions of the Cold War, which was popular among his college constituents, but avoided many of the thornier requirements of a U.S. withdrawal. In his essays on Vietnam compiled in his 1967 book, The Limits of Power, it is somewhat frustrating that McCarthy is just as likely to discuss the fiction of Franz Kafka or C.S. Lewis, as he is the role of the National Liberation Front, and the logistics of removing American troops.
McCarthy had opposed the U.S. escalation of the war, and as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, often asked penetrating questions in hearings with the Administration's national security officials. Although his critique of U.S. Southeast Asia policy seemed more expansive than Kennedy's, (questioning the Cold War premises and the role of the C.I.A.), he, like Kennedy, stopped short of advocating an abrupt unilateral withdrawal of American military forces.
The long-anticipated Kennedy-McCarthy debate was the focus of intense media attention, but its format limited its effectiveness for delineating the subtle differences between the two candidates. Since McCarthy had made such an issue out of Kennedy's refusal to debate, his followers wanted their candidate to score a knockout blow. Kennedy was the better known of the two, and the prospect of a nationally televised debate with both candidates on an equal playing field, appealed to the McCarthy camp.
On June 1, 1968, the long-awaited debate was held at the K.G.O. station in San Francisco, with A.B.C. news broadcaster Frank Reynolds as its moderator; journalists Bob Clark and Bill Lawrence were the chief questioners. The ground rules had been ironed out between the two campaigns. Unlike the more traditional format of the 1960 debates between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy, the Kennedy-McCarthy "debate" was more akin to a joint press conference. There was no studio audience, no opening or closing statements, and any "comments on comments" were to be "avoided." Instead, the candidates sequentially responded to questions from the journalists. Press releases from A.B.C. News referred to the debate as a "joint appearance." For such an emotionally charged campaign, with the nation at war and unrest in the cities, it was a neutered set of guidelines. Both campaigns sought to play it safe. Kennedy, McCarthy, and the three journalists were like contestants on a political talk show, seated serenely around a coffee table.
On the subject of the Vietnam War, the debate was largely uneventful, and reflected a great deal of agreement between the two candidates. At one point, Reynolds commented: "There don't seem [sic] to be too many differences between Senator McCarthy and Senator Kennedy on anything, really." They largely agreed on the need for the U.S. ultimately to get out of Vietnam, with minor differences on the nature of a transitional South Vietnamese government. With peace talks starting up in Paris, and the constantly shifting political and military factions jockeying for power in Saigon, there were simply too many uncontrollable variables for either candidate to be overly rigid. Kennedy did take issue with a McCarthy campaign advertisement, which McCarthy assured him had been pulled, that claimed Kennedy had been part of the Johnson Administration at the time of the Dominican Republic invasion, and that he had approved of the military action; neither charge was true.
During the debate, McCarthy suggested transporting African Americans out of the impoverished inner cities to areas in the suburbs where there were greater employment opportunities. In answering a question about the efficacy of building low-cost housing in the black parts of the larger cities, McCarthy said: "[W]e have got to get to the suburbs, with this kind of housing, because . . . most of the employment now is in the beltline, outside the cities, and I don't think we ought to perpetuate the ghetto, if we can help it, even by putting better houses or low-cost houses there." McCarthy decried "adopting a kind of apartheid in this country," and argued "some of the housing has got to go out of the ghetto, so there is a distribution of the races throughout the whole structure of our cities and into our rural areas."
Kennedy seized upon McCarthy's idea, and implied that the Minnesota Senator advocated moving thousands of blacks into the white suburbs: "[W]hen you say you are going to take 10,000 black people and move them into Orange County, . . . [you] take them out where 40 percent of them don't have any jobs at all, that's what you are talking about. But if you are talking about hitting the problem in a major way, taking those people out, putting them in the suburbs where they can't afford the housing, where their children can't keep up with the schools, and where they don't have the schools for the jobs, it's just going to be catastrophic. . . . [W]e have to face the fact that a lot of these people are going to live here [in the ghettos] for another several decades. And they can't live under the conditions that they are living under at the present time."
Some in the press accused Kennedy of playing to white fears and "backlash" with his reference to moving "10,000 black people" into Orange County, a famous bastion of white conservatism. Kennedy's identification with minorities was so well established that a clumsy attempt to win white votes through provoking racial fears would not help him politically, (unless California's white suburbanites believed Kennedy could control black aspirations on their behalf). Kennedy's work with the Bedford-Stuyvesant "Special Impact" program to rebuild an impoverished community, had taught him that although the black inner cities were ravaged by poverty and unemployment, which decades of racial discrimination had produced, they were still vibrant communities with a sense of pride, and strong generational and family ties. He believed the success of the Bed-Sty project depended on forging stronger ties to the local community, not weaker ones. McCarthy's idea of "moving" blacks in large numbers into the suburbs was simply unrealistic on social, cultural, and political grounds.
Most commentators called the Kennedy-McCarthy debate a draw. It gave Kennedy a boost by putting to rest the McCarthy challenge that had dogged him at campaign stops. He also had held his own against an opponent who, although less well known, was ten years his senior, and had a longer public career. McCarthy showed tens of thousands of people, who knew very little about him, that he was a serious candidate. Media commentators offered their tired observation that both candidates appeared "presidential."
As Kennedy gained momentum in California, Humphrey's supporters used the McCarthy campaign as a vehicle to defeat him. Among the more dubious practices of both the McCarthy and Humphrey campaigns were the transfer of funds, and the running of fraudulent eleventh-hour radio and newspaper advertisements which violated campaign laws.
On May 22, Professor Andrew Robinson, who had played a key role for McCarthy in Nebraska, resigned from the campaign, declaring, "the idealism and the gallantry that Senator McCarthy displayed should not be lost in a pell mell rush for the Humphrey bandwagon. The torch has now passed to Robert Kennedy." Robinson said the appointment of Thomas Finney as McCarthy's campaign director pushed him to the Kennedy camp. Finney had been a former C.I.A. official and a law partner of Defense Secretary Clark Clifford. Even worse, from Robinson's standpoint, was that Finney maintained close ties to Humphrey. A friend of the Administration now apparently ran McCarthy's campaign. Finney's emergence on the scene, along with reports that the campaign had received $50,000 from Humphrey partisans, produced a spate of resignations of McCarthy campaign personnel in the final weeks of the California primary.
The Kennedy campaign exploited the divisions within McCarthy's staff that Finney's appointment had stirred. Robinson became the chair of "Operation Change-Over," which directed efforts to win over former McCarthyites. Several McCarthy campaign officials abandoned ship, citing the campaign's shift in tactics, its transformation into a "stop Kennedy" movement, and its tacit alliance with Humphrey, as the key reasons for their departure. Some McCarthy workers might have switched their allegiance to Kennedy simply because they concluded their candidate was going to lose anyway.
Sema Lederman, who had been an important member of McCarthy's national staff, was placed in charge of the "Change to Kennedy" organization of northern California. James Bowman, the former chairman of the McCarthy campaign in the San Francisco Bay Area, joined the Kennedy cause because, he said, Kennedy "relat[ed] to minority groups," and "discuss[ed] the civil rights issues effectively," while McCarthy did not.
Thomas Page, who had experience as a national public relations director for both Edmund Brown's 1962 gubernatorial campaign, and the 1964 Johnson-Humphrey campaign, served as the Executive Director of the "McCarthy for President" National Finance Committee. He abandoned the McCarthy campaign and joined Kennedy's staff in San Francisco. The Northern California Co-Chair of Citizens for McCarthy, Nancy Swadesh, who was the Secretary of the National Board of Directors of the A.D.A., also dumped McCarthy for Kennedy. "It is evident," her announcement read, that Kennedy was "the only candidate who has been able to gain the confidence of the poor and the disadvantaged by coming to grips with their problems and by proposing concrete solutions to them. Kennedy gives us the best chance for peace in the world and at home."
On May 30, five days before Californians went to the polls, the Kennedy campaign charged Humphrey's partisans with deliberately confusing voters. According to transcripts obtained by the campaign, two radio spots, one sixty-seconds, the other thirty-seconds, stated that "only the Tom Lynch delegation include supporters for all three Democratic presidential candidates -- Humphrey, Kennedy, McCarthy." The ads falsely claimed that a vote for the Lynch slate (which represented Humphrey) was actually a vote for Kennedy, because the Lynch delegation was the only "official" Democratic slate. Stephen Reinhardt, who was the legal counsel for the California Democratic State Central Committee, and Carmen Warschaw, a former chairperson of the Southern California Democratic Committee, and a member of the Lynch delegation, both filed formal complaints. The ads also illegally failed to disclose the names of their official sponsors.
Reinhardt sent telegrams to all of the radio stations and newspapers that had run the advertisements notifying them that they were in violation of federal and state election laws, and requested that the ads be pulled immediately. The Kennedy campaign had to rush out its own set of ads to inform the public "a vote for the Lynch slate was a vote for Humphrey and a vote for the Kennedy slate was a vote for Kennedy."
Radio stations and newspapers continued to run the ads even though the lawyer for the Democratic State Central Committee had already determined they were fraudulent and illegal. On May 30, Warschaw said at a press conference at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles that she was "greatly distressed" that Humphrey's representatives made no effort to remove the ads. Warschaw and Reinhardt sent telegrams of protest to the United States Attorney General, Ramsey Clark, and to Thomas Lynch, noting that "as Attorney General of California," he had "issued official legal opinions upholding the constitutionality" of the election laws that his supporters now violated.
On June 1, the same day of the Kennedy-McCarthy debate in San Francisco, Robinson, of "Operation Change Over," stunned the press with the following statement: "[T]he moral basis of McCarthy's candidacy, opposition to the Johnson-Humphrey Vietnam policy, has now been totally destroyed by an increasingly open and cynical coalition of McCarthy and Humphrey forces. . . Dirty politics in the last days of a campaign are always reprehensible, but it is especially deplorable coming from a candidate whose public posture has been 'holier than thou.' Apparently, we have seen the last of 'Clean Gene.'"
In an embarrassing gaffe, Humphrey's chief fund raiser, Eugene Wyman, a member of the Democratic National Committee, insisted on television that there was "nothing illegal in the ads," only hours before the Weinberg Milton Advertising Agency of Los Angeles, which produced them, agreed to pull the ads and conceded that they were indeed illegal.
The sponsors of the radio and newspaper blitz were ultimately compelled to capitulate. Although the Weinberg Agency deleted the fraudulent material, the original versions continued to run in the media. The false material was expunged from a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times, but the San Francisco Chronicle still ran it in its original form. The Kennedy campaign countered with a ten-second radio spot on June 3, the day before the voting: "There seems to be a little confusion about voting tomorrow. If you want Hubert Humphrey, you vote for the Lynch Delegation and if you want Robert F. Kennedy you vote for the Kennedy delegation. It's as simple as that."
On June 3, the day before the election, Kennedy embarked on his most strenuous single day of campaigning. He traveled more than twelve hundred miles, and hit each of the state's three media markets. He rode in motorcades through clogged streets in Los Angeles, then flew north to San Francisco for a tour through China Town and the neighboring environs, and back down to San Diego for yet another long motorcade into the evening. He had been brought to the brink of physical collapse after eighty-five days of little sleep and non-stop campaigning. He had unleashed a very tactile street politics. His hands were scabbed and bloodied from the thousands of handshakes over the past weeks; people felt they had to touch this candidate. On June 4, the day of the election, he rested with Ethel and six of their ten children at the Malibu home of their friend, the movie director, John Frankenheimer. Richard Goodwin recalled seeing Kennedy "stretched out across two chairs in the sunlight" out by the Frankenheimers' pool, "his head hanging limply over the chair frame; his unshaven face deeply lined and his lips slightly parted." He was relieved to see that his friend was only in a deep sleep.
Late in the day, as the election results were being tallied, Frankenheimer gave Kennedy a ride to the campaign's election night headquarters at the Ambassador Hotel. That evening, when the vote count in the Los Angeles area trickled in, Kennedy surged ahead of McCarthy in what appeared to be a safe lead. He received large pluralities in Los Angeles County, the state's most populous, and it was apparent he would win despite a likely last-minute swell for McCarthy in the white suburbs. When the final count was made available, Kennedy won with 46.3 percent of the vote to McCarthy's 41.8 percent; the Lynch slate won only 12 percent. It was not an overwhelming victory, but it redeemed the campaign after the Oregon defeat, and the one hundred and seventy-four delegate votes greatly strengthened Kennedy's hand as he marched onward to Chicago.
Predictably, the breakdown of the Kennedy districts showed that he won only because large numbers of African Americans, Latinos, and working-class whites voted for him, particularly in the Los Angeles area. The race between McCarthy and Kennedy was close: McCarthy had won 1,267,608 votes to Kennedy's 1,402,911. McCarthy carried twenty more counties than did Kennedy, thirty-eight to eighteen, but Kennedy beat McCarthy handily in Los Angeles County by over one-hundred and twenty-thousand votes, winning all of the minority precincts by enormous margins. Kennedy's showing in Los Angeles gave him the victory.
When early indicators proved Kennedy would be victorious in California, some members of the campaign turned their attention to the post-California strategy. The only chance Kennedy had for winning the nomination was to keep up the pressure on state delegations to be responsive to grass-roots citizen action. In California, Kennedy had shown that he could successfully forge a coalition of minorities and working-class whites; he ran best in states where ordinary Democratic voters, as opposed to machine bosses, had a strong voice. One follow-up plan to the California primary called for appointing state coordinators chosen not from "local politicos," but from representatives of the emergent citizens' groups themselves, in an attempt to build on the "growing disenchantment with the political realities of the country."
On Election Day, David Borden, a Kennedy campaign organizer, wrote to the national office from the Los Angeles headquarters: "The lines have been clearly drawn. Hubert Humphrey has opted for a decision from the top. Senator Kennedy has really no choice but to continue to go to the people. . . . A structure must be provided by which grass roots organizing can be channeled into delegate confrontation and persuasion." Borden called for a high degree of "decentralization," and an expanding network of "citizens groups" nationally "to confront and influence local delegates." This strategy sought to peel away delegates through direct voter participation, and required a groundswell of support for Kennedy from local peace and civil rights activists. In Chicago, Kennedy would be in a tactical alliance with organizers, such as Tom Hayden, who planned massive anti-war demonstrations at the convention. Kennedy strategists hoped to build on the primary election victories by buttressing the campaign's existing ties to grass-roots citizens' groups nationwide.
The California victory catapulted Kennedy into a stronger position in the national politics of 1968. The night of the election, he tried to reach Allard Lowenstein several times by phone to enlist his assistance in organizing support in New York's June 18 primary. He also wanted Lowenstein to act as a liaison between the Kennedy and McCarthy campaigns, and bring over McCarthy delegates now that California had proven Kennedy to be the only viable peace candidate. Lowenstein's "Dump Johnson" movement had created the original impetus for the McCarthy campaign, and now Kennedy sought out the New York activist's help to fortify his own links to the anti-war movement.
On the night of the election, California shaped up to be Kennedy's greatest victory. He waited until it was certain he had won before giving a couple of television interviews from his hotel suite. As the hour arrived at midnight, staffers entreated him to give a statement before it was too late to reach a sizable television audience in the state. The victorious candidate then stepped inside a crowded elevator with his bustling entourage to go down to the Embassy Room to speak. In the clogged ballroom, music, drinking, and merriment reigned. The large chamber was filled with balloons, noisemakers, "Kennedy girls" in styrofoam boaters, delegates, enthralled campaign workers, and hangers on of all kinds. A great victory celebration had been underway for hours. Kennedy fought his way through the multitude, and stood at the podium with his wife Ethel, Jesse Unruh, Dolores Huerta of the U.F.W., and members of his campaign staff.
Kennedy's demeanor was calm and contented even while displaying his characteristic humor, and calling for the nation to heal it