What If Bobby Kennedy Had Lived? 1 of 2





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Published on Nov 4, 2007

Some people believe that had Senator Robert F. Kennedy not been assassinated in early June 1968, he was certain to have made it to the White House that year. Some are convinced Senator Kennedy's victory over Senator Eugene McCarthy in the Democratic Party's California primary guaranteed RFK his party's presidential nomination. However both of these simply are not so.

The truth is there were no such certainties or guarantees.

One week after Bobby Kennedy's May 28th defeat in the Oregon primary election, his winning both the California and South Dakota primaries on June 4th was unquestionably a boon to his presidential campaign. In fact, winning the California contest was absolutely essential in keeping Senator Kennedy's candidacy alive. But it could do no more than that. Such a victory alone could not ensure Kennedy the Democratic nomination in late August. Had he not been killed on the night of his California primary victory, RFK still would have had a very difficult uphill battle ahead of him in that summer of 1968.

Even with his California primary triumph, Kennedy would not have been the front-runner for his party's presidential nomination had he left Los Angeles alive. The party's front-runner still would have been Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey. Humphrey, who had entered the presidential competition on April 27th (nearly four weeks after President Lyndon B. Johnson's withdrawal from the race), had obtained by early June many more delegate commitments than Kennedy had achieved. This was due to HHH and his senior aides negotiating with -- and securing commitments from -- party leaders in back rooms, entirely outside the official primary election process. Humphrey was the leading Democrat in the race even though he was not on the California primary ballot and also was not on the ballots of any of the other primary states. By June 4th, Humphrey had received so many delegate commitments, working outside the primary process, that the Vice President already seemed poised to capture the Democratic presidential nomination, which was set to be awarded in Chicago 2 1/2 months later.

Not that it would have been completely impossible for Bobby Kennedy to have defeated Humphrey for the nomination, but it certainly would have been very difficult as reporters, analysts and even RFK himself observed on more than one occasion during that fateful evening of June 4-5, 1968. The New York Senator would have had the very difficult challenge of trying to convince a sufficient number of already-pledged Humphrey delegates to abandon their commitment to the Vice President. As Robert Kennedy finally said that night immediately after delivering his victory statement in Los Angeles -- in his last recorded words, uttered to radio reporter Andrew West only about a minute before he was fatally shot at the Ambassador Hotel -- he would have to "struggle for it" that summer if there was any chance of his beating Humphrey at the party's August convention in Chicago.

So Senator Kennedy, despite scoring what was perhaps the greatest victory of his political career (beating Gene McCarthy in the California presidential primary), still was not guaranteed the Democratic nomination. Not only was he not a shoe-in for that, he was not even his party's front-runner despite having won four out of five primaries, including California, since entering the race on March 16th. We simply will never know whether RFK eventually would have managed to succeed in this arduous quest had he not been murdered moments after claiming victory in the California primary. He might have succeeded. He might not have. This will always be impossible to know for sure.

Television network news coverage of Bobby Kennedy's final primary victory makes this unmistakably clear. Now you can see and hear all of this for yourself, right here, in this video of selected clips from CBS, ABC and NBC live TV network news coverage of the California primary on the night of RFK's assassination, June 4-5, 1968. The following are the newsmen featured in this video (in order of when we first see or first hear each speak): CBS's Walter Cronkite, CBS's Martin Agronsky, ABC's Bill Lawrence, NBC's Frank McGee, CBS's Bill Plante, ABC's Howard K. Smith, CBS's Roger Mudd, NBC's Sander Vanocur, CBS's Joseph Benti, ABC's Dan Hackel and KRKD/Mutual's Andrew West.

You might take particular note in this video of RFK's own carefully-chosen words, uttered during his last TV network interviews, as well as Kennedy's final recorded words captured by TV cameras and microphones as RFK chatted briefly with local Los Angeles radio reporter Andy West at the lectern in the Ambassador Hotel's Embassy Room ballroom, immediately following the Senator's victory speech and one minute before he was shot in the hotel's kitchen pantry shortly after departing the ballroom.

Also see our "What If Bobby Kennedy Had Lived? 2 of 2".


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