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1964 Presidential Election Essay, Research Paper

The 1964 Presidential election matched two very different candidates during one of the most critical times in American history. John F. Kennedy, the very popular president, had been assassinated only a year earlier. The Cold War was at its height, the Civil Rights Movement was at full tilt, and the situation in Vietnam was only beginning to escalate.

The two major-party candidates were the Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson, and the Republican Barry Morris Goldwater. Johnson chose Senate majority-whip leader, Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, as his running mate. Goldwater tabbed New York Congressman William Miller as vice-presidential candidate. Third-party candidates included: Clifton DeBerry from the Socialist Workers Party; E. Harold Munn of the Prohibition Party; John Kasper of the National States Rights Party; Joseph B. Lightburn from the Constitution Party; and James Hensley of the Universal Party. While these third-party candidates were on the ballot, the presidential election was a two-horse race between Johnson and Goldwater.

Best know as a conservative icon and author of The Conscience of a Conservative, Barry Goldwater began his political career in the U.S. Department of the Interior (Havel, 227). His rise to the national spotlight started in 1952 when he won his first Arizona Senatorial victory by a narrow margin. He was re-elected in a 1958 landslide after his criticism of, then, President Dwight D. Eisenhower s administration. A conservative Republican, Gold- water is remembered for his attacks on the policies of John F. Kennedy s administration, particularly the welfare state, which he likened to socialism. He also opposed the centralization of power in Washington, and upheld the powers of state and local government.

Lyndon Johnson used congress to begin his national political career. He won election in 1937 to the House from the state of Texas, and 1948 to the Senate, defeating Coke Stevenson in the Democratic primary and Republican Jack Porter in the general election (Havel, 306). In 1951, he became the majority whip of the Senate, the youngest to ever hold the position. He gained national attention by becoming the chairman of the Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Service Committee during the Korean War (Havel, 306). In 1954 Johnson won re-election to the Senate. He challenged Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination, and lost, but became vice president when Kennedy chose him as his running mate. On November 6, 1960, Johnson was elected as Vice President of the United States and was also re-elected to a third term in the Senate.

While serving as Vice President, Johnson was a member of the Cabinet and National Security Council, Chairman of the National Aeronautics and Space Council (NASA today), and Chairman of the President s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity (Havel, 306). On November 22, 1963, he became the 36th President of the United States after the assassination of Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. After Kennedy s death, Johnson announced that he would support the legislative agenda, particularly concerning civil rights and education that Kennedy had set up. With the 1964 presidential election looming, Johnson did what he said he would do and on July 2, 1964 he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This Act did much for all Americans, but especially benefited African-Americans. It protected the right to vote, guaranteed access to public accommodations, and did away with withholding of any federal funds from programs administered in a discriminatory fashion (Nelson, 387).

During the Kennedy administration the Democratic and Republican parties experienced a dramatic shift in their respective views on racial issues. The Democratic Party, which had long been led by southerners who suppressed the civil rights of blacks in the south, led by Kennedy, began to soften its stance on those issues. Taking the Democrats place were the Republicans, the party of Abraham Lincoln, The Great Emancipator. Barry Goldwater was the perfect representative to lead the Republican Party under their new racial edict. The presidential race of 1964 has been described as, a decisive turning point in the political evolution of racial issues (Carmines, Stimson, 47).

The debate, passage, and signing of the Civil Rights Act divided the country with the longest congressional debate in the nation s history (Black and Black, 149). While Senator Goldwater was one of the few non-Southerners who voted against the Civil Rights Act, he was not a racist, although he did become a frequent companion to the Southern Congressmen and white Southern segregationists (Black and Black, 150). Many of Goldwater s supporters believed that he would collect the majority s vote from his home region, and it was thought he could get the Midwest vote as well. With no chance to win electoral votes from California or New York, Goldwater knew he had to win the South to win the election. Goldwater hoped that his position as a right-winged Republican, who opposed the New Deal and The Great Society legislation, would win him the Southern vote. He also sought to exploit other issues important to white southerners, such as his opposition to many of Kennedy and Johnson s foreign policies, but especially the federal government s involvement in racial change in America (Nelson, 386).

After Johnson assumed the presidency after Kennedy s assassination in 1963, there was little doubt that he would be the Democratic nominee in 1964. The only minor dissent by a Democrat was from Governor George C. Wallace of Alabama. Wallace entered three primaries, polling 43 percent in Maryland. He talked of establishing a third-party candidacy, but eventually backed off (Nelson, 386).

During the Republican Convention in San Francisco, there was a lot of tension between Goldwater and many other members of the Party. The lingering bitterness from the primaries between Goldwater and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller did not help matters. It was during his acceptance speech at the Republican primary that Goldwater made his infamous call for a moral crusade, declaring that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. While meant to be a defense of conservatism, it merged with previous statements Goldwater had made advocating the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Johnson used this, and other derogatory statements from other Republicans about Goldwater, to paint him as an extremist who would surely end the age of man on Earth.

At many Goldwater rallies in the South he was quoted as saying, Our aim, as I understand it, is neither to establish a segregated society nor to establish an integrated society as such. It is to preserve a free society. Forced Integration is just as wrong as forced segregation (Black and Black, 152). That statement was a political posturing by Goldwater to demonstrate to African-Americans that he was not a racist, although he did want to send a message to White Southerners. The Democratic platform focused on health care, education, welfare, housing, and jobs (Dunham, 127). Republicans knew they wouldn t get the Black vote, so they opposed government s involvement in those issues, hoping to appeal to White Southern Democrats. Senator Goldwater created controversy in the election by saying that if he were to win the presidency he would reduce the United States support for NATO, sell the Tennessee Valley Authority, and change the Social Security System (Durham, 127). On the economics end, Goldwater was also conservative. He supported reduced regulation of business by the Federal Trade Commission, and less government spending (New York Times, 10A). Goldwater s explanation for his economic positions was governmental limit would spark free-market competitive capitalism (New York Times, 10A).

On a lighter note, something called the Cola Wars became prominent during the 1964 election. Goldwater fired the first barbs in the Cola War when he produced a soft drink called GOLDWATER , distributed by the Gold-Water Distributing Company of Granite City, Illinois. Not to be outdone, Johnson responded with Johnson Juice , distributed by the Ladybird Distributing Company also of Granite City, Illinois (http://www.gono.com/virmus/tour/1964pres.htm).

The 1964 election saw the dawn of a new age in media. For the first time the networks and print media made a joint arrangement in getting a fast county on the votes coming in (Dunham, 129). This allowed them to make projections on who the winners might be even before all the votes were counted. Another new development was the Vote Profile Analysis, which made it easier to predict the outcome of the election before the election (Dunham 129). Today this is a media specialty.

President Johnson started off with a substantial early lead in the campaign. Many people were satisfied with the government s performance, which can prove to be a huge advantage for incumbents. In order to win the election, Goldwater would have to make the people see issues not readily visible. Up until the election of 1964, the Democratic Party had controlled the southern states. But now, with African-American support, many white southerners felt that their interests would not be taken care of by the Democrats. Goldwater hoped the perceived void left by the Democratic Party, would be filled by the Republican Party in the hearts of white southerners.

Many times Goldwater tried to get President Johnson to agree to a debate, but Johnson refused every Goldwater offer. Johnson took the intelligent route by not agreeing to a debate. As a very popular incumbent, Johnson had nothing to gain by agreeing to a debate and everything to lose. And, because the media did not hammer Johnson on his refusal to debate Goldwater (something that would not happen today!) there was no overriding public discontent against Johnson s refusal to debate.

Though there were no debates, televised or otherwise, mass media still played a vital role in the 1964 Presidential election. Commercials were an integral part of the election. While the Johnson campaign tried to paint Goldwater as an extremist who would use nuclear weapons on a whim, the Senator s campaign used famous Republicans who supported him in its television ads.

One of the most famous political campaign commercials of all time, Daisy Girl , raised the public s fears that Goldwater would use nuclear weapons. The commercial opens with a young girl picking the petals off of a daisy, and counting aloud as she plucks off each one. Fifteen seconds into the commercial, a loud, booming voices begins a 10, 9, 8, 7, countdown. When the countdown reaches zero, a video of a nuclear-bomb explosion, complete with mushroom cloud, appears. Towards the end of the commercial another voice warns viewers of the dangers of nuclear warfare. The voice says, These are the stakes: to make a world in which all God s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other or we must die. At the conclusion, yet another voice advises viewers to vote for President Johnson, saying vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay at home.

Another of Johnson s commercials, Ice Cream Cone , also warned viewers of what would have happened had Goldwater been elected president. The entire commercial pictures a young girl happily licking an ice cream cone, while a woman s voice is heard in the background. She says, Do you know what people used to do? They used to explode atomic bombs in the air. Now children should have lots of vitamin A and calcium, but they shouldn t have any Stratium Nidae or Cessium-137. She goes on to tell how those things can make you die, and that a treaty was passed to ban the testing of nuclear weapons, but that Senator Goldwater opposed that treaty. If Goldwater is elected president, she warns, the testing might resume. Like all of Johnson s ads a man s voice says, vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay at home.

One of Goldwater s more popular commercials featured the Great Communicator himself, Ronald Reagan. Says Reagan, I asked to speak to you because I m mad. I ve known Barry Goldwater for a long time, and when I hear people say he s impulsive and such nonsense I boil over. Believe me, if it weren t for Barry keeping those boys in Washington on their toes, do you honestly think our national defense would be as strong as it is? Reagan goes on to say that Goldwater does not favor sending troops into war. Do you think Barry honestly wants his sons and daughters involved in a war, asks Reagan. At the conclusion of the commercial another voice says, vote for Goldwater in you heart you know he s right.

As the election grew near, Johnson started gaining back some of the support he had lost from the southern states, after late in the campaign when he took a tour of them. By this time the GOP was believed to be fading, and enthusiasm continued to grow for Johnson in the South. Johnson s wife, Lady Bird Johnson became an important ally for the President in his stretch campaign run through the southern states (New York Times, 10A). During his visit to the Deep South Johnson tried to create the impression that Goldwater was taking one position on the issue of civil rights in the North and another position in the South (New York Times, 10A). Their main avenue of attack was a pamphlet sent out by Goldwater s campaign headquarters in Washington, D.C., and then withdrawn. The pamphlet, which portrayed Goldwater as a strong supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, forced Goldwater to focus resources in the South (New York Times, 10A).

With Goldwater s attention on the South, he eventually lost support in the West and Midwest regions. Goldwater had counted on having California s 40 electoral votes, as well as the Lincoln Republican states of the Northeast. As November 3 neared, Goldwater knew his chance at victory was fading, but could do nothing about it.

The result of the election was that Barry Goldwater received a woodshed beating like no man before or since has received. On a day when 61.7 percent of eligible voters turned out, Lyndon Johnson earned 43,126,584 (61.1%!) of their votes, to Goldwater s 27,178,188 votes. In the Electoral College, Johnson carried forty-four states (486 electoral votes), with huge wins in the electoral-vote hotbeds of New York, California, and Texas. Goldwater carried only six states (53 electoral votes); his home state of Arizona, and Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. Although he only won six states, he did make an impressive showing in the South.

In his failed presidential campaign, Goldwater not only lost but also took numerous house Republicans down with him. Prior to the 1964 election there were 258 house Democrats, and 177 house Republicans (Congressional Quarterly s Guide to Congress, 896). After the 1964 results were tallied, there was a net change of 37 house seats. The Democrats upped the majority to 295 members, while the Republicans were down to 140 seats (Congressional Quarterly s Guide to Congress, 896). Goldwater s disastrous bid not have the same effect on senate Republicans as it had on their house brethren, with the GOP only losing one seat (Congressional Quarterly s Guide to Congress). This is most likely because only one-third of the Senate is up for election every two years, and perhaps a result of the many Republican incumbents who occupied safe seats.

Not surprisingly, the Republicans did gain some seats in the southern states. Alabama experienced the biggest shift in power. The Yellowhammer State saw its number of house Republicans jump from zero to five, in becoming the state s majority delegation (Congressional Quarterly s Guide to U.S. Elections). Georgia and Mississippi witnessed one-seat gains by Republicans, while the GOP maintained its monopoly on South Carolina s two house seats (Congressional Quarterly s Guide to U.S. Elections).

There are numerous historical significances of this election. African-American voters showed more support than ever for Democrats, perhaps because for the first time the major party candidates had different views on racial issues. It was also the first Presidential race to feature an African-American candidate, Clifton DeBerry of the Socialist Workers Party. There was also a shift in geographical party allegiance. The Republicans began to draw heavily from White Southerners, while the Democrats took stranglehold of the Northeast as well as Black voters.

Whenever someone proposes anything seen by others as unconventional, there is usually an adjustment period required before the idea becomes accepted. One can look anywhere for examples of this phenomenon: the world of politics, pop culture, or even in sports and athletics. I believe this is the case with Barry Goldwater. His ideas of staunch conservatism were seen as radical by both members of the opposition and his own party. Gradually, though, they became more widely embraced by American voters. The Republicans won the White House in 1968 behind Richard Nixon, and had it not been for the Watergate scandal the line of succession between him and Reagan may have been unbroken. Nevertheless, the GOP did gain brief control of the Senate in 1980, and control of both the Senate and House in 1994. While Barry Goldwater may have taken an ass whooping in 1964, the Republicans can thank him for paving the way for the Republican Revolution in Presidential and Congressional elections in America, and particularly the South.

Works Cited

Black, Earl and Black, Merle. (1992). The Vital South: How Presidents Are Elected. Harvard University Press.

Carmines, Edward and Stimson, James. (1990). Issue Evolution: Race and

Transformation of American Politics. Princeton University Press.

Congressional Quarterly s Guide to Congress. (1982). Third Edition. Washington D.C.: Congressional Quarterly.

Congressional Quarterly s Guide to U.S. Elections. (1994). Third Edition. Washington D.C.: Congressional Quarterly.

Dunham, Pat. (1991). Electoral Behavior in the United States: 1960-1988. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Havel, James. (1996). U.S. Presidential Candidates and the Elections. New York:

Simon& Schuster Macmillan.



Nelson, Michael. (1996). Congressional Quarterly s Guide to the Presidency. Second Edition. Washington D.C.: Congressional Quarterly.

1964. The Goldwater View of Economics . New York Times (Oct. 11).

1964. Johnson s Southern Trip Spurs New Support . New York Times (Oct. 11).

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