How RFK could have become president

Sen. Eugene McCarthy Leaves the Race

In his TV interviews just before heading to the Embassy Ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel, Kennedy had one central message—only a united “peace” campaign could hope to defeat Humphrey.

“I can only win,” he said, “if I have the help and assistance of Senator McCarthy and/or those who support him. Otherwise, the policies about the war and the cities will not change.” RFK had said flatly that if he lost California, he’d exit the race; Senator McCarthy, who had entered the campaign the previous fall after Kennedy declined, had made no such commitment. And the bitterness of McCarthy’s people at Kennedy’s sudden entry into the race was still strong. A few nights before the primary, journalist Jack Newfield and I had gone to the hotel where McCarthy staffers were staying, making the pitch for the California loser to leave the race. One McCarthy aide said, “If we have to have a red-baiting opportunist in the White House, I’d rather have Nixon.”

More significantly, though, some of McCarthy’s top lieutenants, including Sam Brown, who had organized the “Clean for Gene” youth invasion of New Hampshire, signaled clearly that they would switch to RFK if he won the California primary.