Robert Kennedy Discourages a Write-In Campaign in 1964
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“President Johnson should be free to select his own running mate” ROBERT F. KENNEDY.
Typed Document. Draft press release, extensive corrections and addenda in Robert Kennedy’s hand. n.d., [ca. March 5, 1964]. 1 page, 8 x 8 5/8 in.
There have been a number of inquiries about the Attorney General’s views on the campaign to write in his name for the Office of Vice President in the primary election in New Hampshire next week.
The AG as he has said he intends to remain with the Justice Dept. thru November and he has not yet decided what he will do after the election. He has made it clear that the choice of Democratic nominee for Vice President will be made as it should be made, but the Democratic Convention in August, guided by the wishes of President Johnson and that President Johnson should be free to select his own running mate.
[For these reasons, the Attorney General has not been in touch with anyone in New Hampshire or taken any action to encourage the campaign. In fact he has discouraged in the past and will continue to discourage any efforts on his behalf.]
After John F. Kennedy’s assassination, many Democrats looked to Robert Kennedy to carry his brother’s legacy. Supporters thought that if RFK was not the presidential nominee, he should at least become the vice-presidential candidate on the 1964 Democratic ticket with Lyndon Johnson. Despite their public personas and supporters’ desires, the two men despised each other. According to Jeff Shesol in his book, Mutual Contempt, Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud that Defined a Decade, Johnson thundered “I’ll quit it first!” at the mere suggestion of tapping Bobby Kennedy as his running mate, followed by “I don't want it that much!”
For his part, Kennedy was both a political realist as well as the Johnson administration’s Attorney General. He worked to discourage a write-in campaign in any of the Democratic primaries, especially the pivotal New Hampshire primary. Early talk suggested that Kennedy make a public announcement, but to avoid appearing arrogant, he decided to make the announcement though the Justice Department’s press office. The statement went through multiple drafts; this is the next-to-last, and the official statement was even shorter—a mere two sentences with 65 words (as opposed to 154 words here).
Kennedy’s official position was that the choice of a vice-presidential candidate belonged to convention delegates and Johnson, and Kennedy reiterated that he had “not been in touch with anyone in New Hampshire or taken any action to encourage the campaign.” Nonetheless, more than 25,000 New Hampshire Democrats wrote in Kennedy’s name for vice president; Johnson, with name printed on the ballot, received 29,635 votes. In the end, Kennedy did not stay at Justice, instead, he left in September 1964 to run for a vacant New York Senate seat. Happy to have him out of his administration, Johnson campaigned for Kennedy that fall.
As the Vietnam War grew increasingly unpopular, the animosity between the two Democrats lead to Kennedy’s primary challenge to Johnson beginning in March 1968. However, Kennedy only entered the contest after seeing Johnson’s vulnerability—less-well-known Eugene McCarthy had nearly defeated Johnson in the New Hampshire primary on March 12. With two serious challenges from within his own party, Johnson stunned the nation on March 31, 1968, with a televised announcement that he was dropping out of the race. Tragically, the highly-popular Kennedy, on the verge of gaining the nomination and possibly the White House, was shot and killed on live television in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968, just hours after winning the California primary.