Richard Nixon, Watergate, and the Press: A Historical Retrospective

By Louis W. Liebovich | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
The 1972 Election

Candidates lined up for the 1972 primaries, but all of them developed their own problems and so, despite the deadly scandal that was simmering in the White House, the presidential election proved to be mundane and lopsided. Polls in mid-1971 indicated that Nixon was vulnerable—his approval rating had dropped below 50 percent by late spring, with Maine Senator Edmund Muskie leading by as many as eight percentage points in head-to-head polling samples. Two candidates from Nixon’s own party declared early in 1972. On the left was antiwar California Congressman Paul McCloskey, and on the right was conservative Ohio Congressman John Ashbrook. Both were easily swept aside.

Nixon’s decision to leave his name on the ballot in New Hampshire by the January 5 deadline was taken as a declaration of his candidacy, but he was uncertain what to do about Agnew. In September 1971, the president told his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, that he saw Agnew as a “liability.” He needed to indicate his support for Agnew publicly to stop press speculation and blunt the “extreme right,” Nixon added, but he would not decide until later whether to retain Agnew.1 By the time the decision to keep the vice president was made at the convention in the summer of 1972, it was clear that Nixon would be an easy winner and that Agnew’s presence made no difference. It would be better to keep the vice president and avoid any discord on the right, Nixon reasoned. Agnew probably did not know until much later how close he came to being dropped from the ticket. As events unfolded, he probably would have been better off leaving national politics in 1972.

The reelection organization was the Committee to Re-Elect the President or CRP, promptly renamed CREEP by the headline writers. Normally, such committees merely adopted the names of the candidates, such as the Wilson ReElection Committee or the Eisenhower Re-Election Committee. Nixon’s campaign became the Committee to Re-Elect the President because Haldeman’s

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