Richard Nixon: The Southern Strategy and the 1968 Presidential Election
Some critics of Richard M. Nixon have vigorously attacked his 1968 presidential campaign in the South. The 1968 Democratic party nominee Hubert H. Humphrey said that, unlike Nixon, "He went to the South and refused to play the cheap politics of saying we would slow down desegregation."1 Two Atlanta Constitution writers, Reg Murphy and Hal Gulliver, in The Southern Strategy, say Nixon's dealings with the South in the 1968 election were based on a "calculated appeal to white segregationists sentiment." 2 In fact, the term itself, "Southern Strategy," as Nixon's former senior speech writer William Safire writes, implies "deviousness" and "discrimination." 3
However, Nixon's 1968 campaign in the South is too complex a subject to be so simply dismissed as is done in such criticism. This paper will more carefully examine this topic as outlined here. First, in the campaign for the Republican nomination, Nixon's primary victories and his weak opposition gave him strong bargaining power with the South. And as a result, Nixon at times clearly veered from a Southern Strategy. Third, the South had a limited role in the general election. Last, Nixon's meetings and agreements with Southern leaders, and the specific attacks by Humphrey and by Gulliver and Murphy on desegregation will be analyzed.
Nixon says that he had met with most southern leaders by the fall of 1967. After the great defeat of the 1964 GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, Nixon believed that many Goldwater supporters now wanted a candidate who could win, and these conservatives would back him if he won in the primaries. 4
Nixon won with huge majorities in almost all of the Republican primaries he entered--often outdrawing winners of the Democratic primary. Then New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller's write-in candidacy, with the exception of Massachusetts, drew poorly. In the New Hampshire primary Nixon won over 84,000 votes, 79 percent of the vote, while Rockefeller received only 11,691 votes, or 11 percent of the vote. 5 Although not then a candidate, Rockefeller said