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The 1972 United States Presidential Election was a realigning election that led to the start of the present 4-party system. In a year when the election was overshadowed by the assassination of the President, the main issue in the election was the Vietnam War. The Democratic Party nominated George McGovern, who ran an anti-war campaign (along with his running mate Mike Gravel who had became famous for his 1-man filibuster to attempt to end the Draft immediately and for publishing the Pentagon Papers) to victory despite alienating blue-collar Democrats. The Republican Party narrowly nominated New York governor Nelson Rockefeller following a very close campaign between Rockefeller and California governor Ronald Reagan.
- Democratic Candidates
- Shirley Chisholm, U.S. representative from New York
- Walter E. Fauntroy, U.S. delegate from District of Colombia
- Fred R. Harris, U.S. senator from Oklahoma
- Vance Hartke, U.S. senator from Indiana
- Hubert Humphrey, U.S. senator from Minnesota, former vice president, and 1968 presidential nominee
- Henry “Scoop” Jackson, U.S. senator from Washington
- John Lindsay, Mayor of New York City
- Eugene McCarthy, former U.S. senator from Minnesota and candidate for the 1968 presidential nomination
- George McGovern, U.S. senator from South Dakota
- Wilbur Mills, U.S. representative from Arkansas
- Patsy T. Mink U.S. representative from Hawaii
- Edmund Muskie, U.S. senator from Maine and 1968 vice presidential nominee
- Terry Sanford, former Governor of North Carolina
- George Wallace, governor of Alabama and 1968 American Independent Party presidential candidate
- Sam Yorty, Mayor of Los Angeles
Senator Ted Kennedy was the early favorite to win the nomination until the Chappaquiddick incident in 1969. The Democratic establishment's favorite candidate was initially Edmund Muskie, but he was upset in the New Hampshire Primary and ceased to be a factor.
Alabama governor George Wallace dominated the southern states (winning every county in the Florida primary), but didn't appeal to the pro-civil rights Northern Democrats. The man who assassinated President Nixon, Arthur Bremer had George Wallace as his second choice, but Wallace's life would be spared as the Nixon assassination was successful.
George McGovern ended up winning the decisive California primary with his strong support from younger Democrats, which made him the nominee of the party. Hubert Humphrey was his main challenger in California.
The popular vote totals were:
- George McGovern - 4,056,451
- George Wallace - 4,053,424
- Hubert Humphrey - 3,921,372
- Edmund Muskie - 1,840,217
- Eugene McCarthy - 553,990
- Henry M. Jackson - 505,198
- Shirley Chisholm - 430,703
- Terry Sanford - 331,415
- John Lindsay - 196,406
- Samuel Yorty - 79,446
- Wilbur Mills - 37,401
- Walter E. Fauntroy - 21,217
- Unpledged - 19,533
- Ted Kennedy - 16,693
- Vance Hartke - 11,798
- Patsy Mink - 8,286
- None - 6,269
Democratic National Convention
- George McGovern 1,699
- George Wallace 605
- Henry “Scoop” Jackson 332
- Shirley Chisholm 152
- Terry Sanford 78
- Hubert Humphrey 67
- Wilbur Mills 34
- Edmund Muskie 25
- Edward M. Kennedy 13
- Wayne Hays 5
- Eugene McCarthy 2
- Ramsey Clark 1
- Walter Mondale 1
Vice Presidential Vote
As the establishment Democrats walked out of the convention with Wallace whispering about a 3rd party campaign, the McGovern supporters decided to unanimously nominate Senator Mike Gravel, who had led a 1-man filibuster against the draft the previous year.
- Republican Candidates
- Spiro Agnew, Incumbent President of the United States
- Nelson Rockefeller, Governor of New York
- Ronald Reagan, Governor of California
- George Romney, Secretary of HUD and former Governor of Michigan
- Harold Stassen, former governor of Minnesota and candidate for the Republican nomination in 1944, 1948, 1952, 1964, and 1968
Following the assassination of President Nixon, an impromptu campaign for the nomination was held.