"On Tuesday, March 10, New Hampshire enjoyed an old–fashioned New England blizzard: up to 14 inches of snow from the Canadian to the Massachusetts border — snow crusting the kepis of the Union veterans, snow blocking Gov. John King's new state highways, snow slushing the streets of Manchester, snow over mill and factory and ski slope and farm. New Hampshire's polls closed at 7 p.m. ... By 7:18, Walter Cronkite announced over CBS that Henry Cabot Lodge had won New Hampshire."
Theodore H. White
"The Making of the President 1964"
To say the least, it was an unexpected way to begin the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
In 1964, the Republican Party was divided between its conservatives and its moderates. Former Vice President Richard Nixon managed to bring the two groups together in 1960, but he wasn't a candidate in 1964. Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona was the favorite of the insurgent conservatives, and Gov. Nelson Rockefeller of New York was the candidate of the establishment moderates.
"By 1964, New Hampshire was not quite so rural, Yankee and insular as popular myth held it," recalls the Manchester (N.H.) Union–Leader. "Yet the 1964 primary provided a result so startling that the belief in the Yankee traits of independence and inscrutability would find new life."
Startling was probably a good way to describe 1964.
assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963 cast a dark shadow over everything. It was a startling event — to put it mildly — and it changed the political landscape in 1964.
Historian Theodore White wrote that, until the assassination, Goldwater saw Kennedy as "history's perfect opponent." The two men would "debate the issues up and down the country, they would draw the line between the conservative and liberal philosophies," much as they had when they had been colleagues in the Senate. Goldwater expected to lose, but he also expected to do well enough to put the fledgling conservative movement in position for greater things in the future.
Goldwater genuinely liked Kennedy, White wrote. When they were in the Senate together, Goldwater often chided Kennedy with "Your father would have spanked you" for casting certain votes. They disagreed often, but they liked each other.
"And then came the assassination," White wrote. "The assassination shocked Goldwater as it shocked every American by its brutality and senselessness. ... Now, after the assassination, he was faced with running against another man, a Southerner, of an entirely different sort. "
When the campaign for the nomination began, Rockefeller was seen as the front–runner, but he lost considerable momentum due to a couple of related personal issues. First was the subject of his recent divorce. At the time, no president had ever been divorced, and that was enough of a social taboo by itself (at least until once–divorced Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980).
But then Rockefeller remarried in 1963. His bride, who was 15 years younger, had recently been divorced, too, and she had given up custody of her four children to her ex–husband. That was a double whammy.
"Have we come to the point in our life as a nation," asked Prescott Bush, the father and grandfather of presidents, "where the governor of a great state, one who perhaps aspires to the nomination for president of the United States, can desert a good wife, mother of his grown children, divorce her, then persuade a young mother of four youngsters to abandon her husband and their four children and marry the governor?"
So that was working against Rockefeller, who lost 20 percentage points among Republicans amid rumors that he had been having an affair with his bride while she was still married. The rumors were fueled by the rapid succession of events — her divorce quickly followed by her remarriage to Rockefeller. The appearance of it would cost Rockefeller the nomination, many said, although many also were not comfortable with Goldwater.
The race between Goldwater and Rockefeller was regarded as close when New Hampshire's voters went to the polls 50 years ago today. Both sides thought they would win, but neither one did.
To say the least, it was a surprising outcome. Some folks probably were shocked, and Lodge likely was one of them. The whole write–in movement had been the work of a small group of political novices; Lodge didn't think it would amount to much and made no effort to encourage the movement. In fact, he had renounced it two months earlier.
But former President Dwight Eisenhower had publicly urged Lodge to run in December, and moderate Republicans were encouraged the day before the primary when it was revealed that Lodge had not had his name removed from the ballot in Oregon, site of the next officially contested primary.
It was a time when delegates were still won in caucuses or state conventions, not primaries, and that was the path to the nomination for presidential hopefuls, but contested primary results were often viewed as evidence of a candidate's vote–getting ability (or lack thereof).
In the aftermath of the New Hampshire primary, all the attention was on Lodge. Without lifting a finger, he had won the first Republican primary. But there would be no more legitimate tests of vote–winning skills for a couple of months.
Illinois actually was next on the political calendar, but the state's party leadership was staunchly behind Goldwater. New Jersey's primary was a week later. No candidates had filed so all votes were write–ins.
Primaries were held in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania the week after that. No candidates appeared on the ballots in those states, either. The day before the primaries, Rockefeller called for air strikes in Laos and Cambodia to help South Vietnam. It was a controversial position. Lodge won Massachusetts, Pennsylvania voted for its governor, and Rockefeller received 9–10% of the vote in both.
Mostly uncontested primaries followed in Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio and West Virginia.
Lodge began to reconsider when the write–in campaign paid off with a victory in New Hampshire. So did the press and GOP elders.
Lodge won primaries in Massachusetts (the state he had represented in the U.S. Senate) and New Jersey, but then he decided that he really didn't want to be president and withdrew his name from consideration.
As the campaign moved West for the Oregon primary, White wrote, "Lodge's picture was on the magazine covers across the country; Lodge led every poll from coast to coast. ...
"In the aftermath of the New Hampshire primary," White wrote, "Oregon's Republicans shifted as the nation's Republicans shifted, and the first Harris (Poll) samplings showed thus: for Lodge, 46%; for Nixon, 17%; for Goldwater, 14%; for Rockefeller, 13%."
"For Rockefeller," wrote White, "the name of the game was now impact. From New Hampshire on, there was no longer any realistic chance of his becoming the Republican nominee. But to veto the choice of Goldwater, he must prove before the convention assembled that Republican voters would not have Goldwater on any terms."
That next round would belong to Rockefeller — but the nomination would go to Goldwater.