The President spoke from the White House Oval Office just before midnight, after receiving a telegram of concession and congratulation from defeated Democratic nominee George McGovern.
The South Dakota senator, though buried in an electoral defeat of historic dimensions, refused to concede that his platform of immediate peace in Vietnam and populist reform at home had been repudiated along with his candidacy.
Referring to the Nixon stands he had condemned in his long struggle for the presidency, McGovern said from Sioux Falls: “We do not rally to the support of policies we deplore. We love this country and we will continue to beckon it to a higher standard.”
Yesterday, however, only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia followed McGovern’s standard. With the outcome in Minnesota and Alaska still in doubt, Mr. Nixon was in a position to match or exceed Franklin D. Roosevelt’s modern record of carrying all but two states in 1936.
With 74% of the nation’s precincts reporting, the vote was:
ELECTORAL VOTE/POPULAR VOTE
Both winner and loser referred to the Vietnam war issue that dominated all others in their disjointed campaign.
Mr. Nixon said that “we are moving swiftly” toward “peace with honor, the kind of peace that will last.” A Vietnam settlement, he said, could launch “the greatest generation of peace, true peace, for the whole world that man has ever known.”
McGovern told his supporters and a national television audience he would not “shed any tears tonight” because he was convinced “we have pushed this country in the direction of peace.”
Looking back at the 22-month campaign, in which he was the underdog at every stage, the 50-year-old South Dakotan said: “If we pushed the day of peace just one day closer, then every day of bone-crushing effort was worth the sacrifice.”
In conventional political measurements, however, McGovern was destined to go into the history books as one of the all-time great losers -- ranking with Barry Goldwater, Alf Landon, Herbert Hoover and Horace Greeley.
In his fifth national campaign, Mr. Nixon got from the voters what he asked -- “a new majority.” He toppled traditional Democratic Strongholds in the North and made the Solid South solidly Republican.
While Mr. Nixon won the strongest victory imaginable in an election that posed what he called “the clearest choice in this century,” the certainty of continued Democratic control of Congress underlined Republican National Chairman Bob Dole’s comment that “this is a personal triumph for Mr. Nixon -- and not a party triumph.”
The President rolled up huge margins in many states. The contrast to his razor-thin victory in 1968 could not have been more dramatic.
He carried all five states that went for Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace on the third-party ticket in 1968, as polling-place interviews indicated three-quarters of the former Wallace backers moved behind the Nixon candidacy.
McGovern had clear victories only in the District of Columbia and Massachusetts, as such former Democratic strongholds as Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Michigan and Texas fell into the Nixon column.
Mr. Nixon had carried none of those states in either of his previous tries for the presidency in 1960 and 1968. This time he got them all -- as well as Arkansas, which had not gone Republican since 1868.
Vice President Agnew did most of the Republican campaigning in Wallace country, and in an appearance at a Republican victory celebration at the Shoreham Hotel. Mr. Nixon paid tribute to his running-mate as an outstanding campaigner, who ‘never lost his cool” and who proved he could “take it and dish it out.”
Wallace, whose own try for the Democratic nomination was halted by a would-be assassin’s bullets, commented that the returns were “an indication that the people of this country are moving to the position that we thought ought to be the position.”
The Alabama governor said he would work “to get the Democratic Party back to being the party of the average citizen.”
Harry S. Dent Jr., a White House aide identified with the strategy for attracting the Wallace vote, said “the Southern strategy is working -- in fact, it’s working all over the country.”
The Nixon coattails helped the Republicans pick up Senate seats in Virginia, North Carolina, Oklahoma and New Mexico, but those gains were offset by Republican losses in Kentucky, Iowa, Maine and South Dakota.
The coattails were also important in seven House contests won by Republicans. They also played a part in holding such embattled positions as the Indiana governorship.
But in an election marked by the record ticket-splitting, the outstanding characteristic was the durability of House incumbents. Of the first 286 House races decided, only seven saw the defeat of incumbents seeking re-election and only 12 marked a clear shift of party control of the district.
There was some swapping of seats among the governors -- who have increasingly become a target of voters’ wrath in recent years.
Democrats took over Republican-held governorships in Delaware and Vermont, while Republican Christopher (Kit) Bond, 33, became the first GOP executive in Missouri since 1940. Several other major races -- including those in Illinois, North Carolina, Texas and Washington -- where still undecided.
In the most-publicized gubernatorial battle, Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr. (R) of West Virginia derailed the political ambitions of Secretary of State John D. Rockefeller IV (D) with a close but clear victory.
Whatever the spotty character of the Nixon coattails, the muscle of his personal victory was impressive.
The Nixon coattails helped the Republicans pick up Senate seats in Virginia, North Carolina and New Mexico, but those gains were more than offset by Republican losses in Kentucky, Iowa, Maine and South Dakota.
Analyses from NBC and CBS computers indicated that Cleveland went to the President by 50,000 votes and that Mr. Nixon was splitting even with McGovern in such other traditional Democratic strongholds as Chicago and Philadelphia.
The network analyses showed Mr. Nixon won a majority of the votes from Catholics, blue-collar workers, union members and Italo-Americans, all of whom had been Democratic in 1968. About three-quarters of the 1968 Wallace supporters backed the President.
The network polling also indicated that first-time voters -- a main target for McGovern -- split their votes about evenly and that the President scored gains among both Jews and blacks, though they remained predominately Democratic.
Former Secretary of the Treasury John B. Connally, who headed the Democrats for Nixon organization, said the outcome “reflects the great confidence of the American people in the President . . . Senator McGovern . . really misjudged the American people. He is outside the mainstream of his party.”
On the other hand, Democratic vice president candidate Sargent Shriver told party workers at the Washington Hilton, “You are the vanguard of the future.”
Voting reports through the day were as mixed as the weather -- fair through much of the country but rainy in parts of the Midwest. Officials reported heavy turnouts in some cities, below average in others.
Advance indications were that between 80 million and 85 million would vote in this, the first election in American history where 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds were eligible to vote.
The census Bureau estimated that about 108 million of the 140 million Americans of voting age were registered or otherwise qualified to vote.
Mr. Nixon and his wife were up early in the morning to cast their ballots in a San Clemente, Calif., schoolhouse near the Western White House. The President spent more than five minutes in the voting booth -- apparently struggling like any other voter with the two-foot-long California ballot that contained referenda on issues from legalizing marijuana to reimposing the death penalty.
The First Family flew back across the country to the White House for a dinner with their two daughters and sons-in-law.
McGovern chose to go back to South Dakota to receive the returns that would mark the success or failure of his 22-month quest for the presidency.
The 50-year-old senator, who started the longest campaign of this century in January, 1971, voted in his boyhood town of Mitchell.
Accompanied by his wife, Eleanor, and four of their five children, McGovern cast what he said was a straight Democratic ballot in the classroom wing of a Congregational Church.
Mindful, perhaps, of the national polls predicting he would be defeated by landslide proportions, the Democratic nominee asked bystanders to “say a little prayer for me.”
While McGovern awaited the outcome in Sioux Falls, an atmosphere of total confidence wrapped the White House.
Early in the evening, Communications Director Herbert G. Klein predicted Mr. Nixon would carry at least 48 states.
The election -- presumably the last in which Mr. Nixon would appear on the ballot -- marked the end of a long generation in American politics.
In came 26 years after his first victory -- an upset House win over Democrat Jerry Voorhis -- and 20 years after his election as Vice President on the Republican ticket headed by Dwight D. Eisenhower. It also came ten years to the day after the “last press conference” following his losing bid for the California governorship in 1962, a press conference in which he told newsmen, “You won’t have Richard Nixon to kick around.”
The election ended a campaign that began last winter with the largest field of candidates in recent history and dwindled to one of the most desultory contests.
No less than 11 Democrats were running active campaigns when the primary season began in New Hampshire and Florida last March. In addition, two Republican congressmen challenged Mr. Nixon from the opposite wings of his party.
The President ignored his intra-party critics -- liberal Rep. Paul N. (Pete) McCloskey of California and conservative Rep. John M. Ashbrook of Ohio -- and their challenges melted in the glow of Mr. Nixon’s successful Peking and Moscow summitry.
Meantime, the Democrats were beating each other with regularity, while the field of presidential aspirants dwindled slowly.
It was not until the fourth primary in Wisconsin in April that McGovern managed to come out on top. Two of the first three contests -- in New Hampshire and Illinois -- went to the pre-primary favorite for the nomination. Sen. Edmund S. Muskie of Maine. But Muskie’s unimpressive margin over McGovern in New Hampshire and his fourth-place finish in Florida (won by Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace) severely dimmed his luster.
With such lightly regarded contenders as Sen. Vance Hartke of Indiana, Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, ex-Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy of Minnesota and New York Mayor John V. Lindsay sidelined by the end of the Wisconsin primary, it became essentially a four-man struggle among McGovern, Muskie, Wallace and Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota, the 1968 Democratic nominee.
A double loss on April 25 -- to McGovern in Massachusetts and to Humphrey in Pennsylvania -- finished Muskie, as far as active participation in the primaries was concerned.
Wallace continued to run a strong race, despite lack of formal organization, exploiting the current of public protest with the slogan, “Send Them a Message.” After his Florida win, he came north and finished second to McGovern in Wisconsin, won North Carolina and Tennessee and scored his most impressive victories on May 16 by capturing both Maryland and Michigan.
The previous day, however, Wallace was cut down by a would-be assassin while campaigning in Laurel, Md. The bullets fired by Arthur Bremer ended Wallace’s campaigning for the year and left him a cripple in a wheelchair.
McGovern and Humphrey fought a series of inconclusive battles -- Humphrey winning in Ohio, McGovern in Nebraska -- an then in the crucial winner-take-all showdown in California on June 6, McGovern won by a margin of 175,000 votes out of more than 3 million cast.
The California victory was a costly one for McGovern, however.
Already a subject of some suspicion among party regulars because his support came primarily from students, peace movement activists and other “amateurs,” he was put on the defensive by Humphrey on two issues that were to haunt the rest of his campaign.
McGovern had proposed in #31 billion reduction in the defense budget, which Humphrey said would “cut into the very muscle of our defense.” He also had proposed a $1,000-per-person income grant to all Americans as a substitute for the existing welfare system -- a plan which Humphrey denounced as a “compounded mess” and whose cost, McGovern was forced to admit in debate, he could nor accurately estimate.
Although McGovern completed a sweep of the late primaries in New Mexico, South Dakota, New Jersey and New York, he was on the defensive from the time of those California debates with Humphrey.
Strongly pressured by George Meany and other union leaders who opposed McGovern’s nomination, Humphrey sanctioned a challenge to the California winner-take-all rule that awarded McGovern all 271 delegates for his plurality victory.
A coalition of Humphrey-Muskie-Wallace backers on the convention Credentials Committee voted to strip McGovern of 151 of his California votes, putting his nomination in jeopardy, but after a legal battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court, the issue was left to the convention itself to decide. On the opening night of the Miami Beach meeting, the McGovern forces -- aided by a series of parliamentary rulings by party chairman Lawrence F. O’Brien -- prevailed by a 380-vote margin and his nomination was thereby assured.
The convention, however, was marked by a series of rebuffs to the “regular” Democratic elements that had opposed McGovern’s nomination, symbolized by a vote to unseat Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, most powerful of the surviving big-city bosses, in favor of an insurgent group.
What came to be seen as the crucial decision of the convention was made by McGovern on the afternoon after he had won the nomination by a one-sided margin over Wallace and Sen. Henry M. Jackson of Washington, who inherited the labor-Southern-”regular” support after Muskie and Humphrey withdrew from the race.
McGovern repeatedly pressed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts to be his running mate and when Kennedy gave his final refusal, just an hour before the deadline, the new nominee turned to Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton of Missouri, a little-known freshman senator whose chief asset was that he was a border-state Roman Catholic acceptable to party elements that had opposed McGovern’s nomination.
Ten days later, on July 25, McGovern and Eagleton jointly disclosed that -- unknown to the public and to McGovern at the time of selection -- the Missourian had been hospitalized three times between 1960 and 1966 for what Eagleton called “nervous exhaustion and fatigue.”
Eagleton said the therapy had included shock treatment. McGovern said the disclosure in no way affected Eagleton’s status, volunteering in a comment that was to echo from then to election day that he stood behind his choice of Eagleton “1,000 per cent.”
Within 72 hours, while Eagleton was proceeding to campaign as if nothing happened, there was a crisis in the McGovern camp. Newspaper editorials and leading Democrats were questioning whether Eagleton -- on the basis of his medical history and his efforts to conceal his condition -- was fit for a job that put him in line of succession to the presidency. After a series of uncomfortable days in which McGovern himself and his top aides plated stories with newsmen suggesting that Eagleton should “voluntarily” resign from the ticket, the two men met again on July 31 and announced they had “jointly agreed that the best course is for Sen. Eagleton to step aside.”
In the following days, McGovern offered the nomination to Kennedy, Humphrey, Muskie and several other Democratic senators- -- all of whom publicly refused -- before picking Sargent Shriver, the former Peace Corps and anti-poverty director who had never run for public office.
By this time, with a month of campaign time squandered and the problems of reunifying his divided party incomparably increased, McGovern was facing an obviously uphill struggle against the incumbent President. His deficit in the public opinion polls increased from 10 points in May -- just before Humphrey began his assault in the California primary campaign -- to 34 points by the end of the Eagleton-Shriver affair in August.
Meantime, Mr. Nixon was doing nothing to disturb political trends that appeared to be moving in his direction.