March 29, 2016

1968. The "Draft Rockefeller" Movement to Challenge Nixon

The Rockefeller Gambit?
Governor Nelson Rockefeller (left) with Richard Nixon in front of the capital building in Albany, New York on October 28, 1968 (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

March 21, 1968

This is Bill Downs in Washington, for Information Reports.

Washington's political pros agree that Governor Rockefeller didn't really withdraw from the Republican presidential race—he just publicly went underground. More on the Rockefeller gambit in just a moment . . .

The word here in Washington is that Nelson Rockefeller made his qualified, "but if" withdrawal as an active Republican presidential candidate only after his own private polls showed signs that the Governor would lose to former Vice President Nixon in any Midwest primary contest; that Rockefeller might win by only a narrow margin in the Oregon primary—and probably lose again to Nixon in the important California race.

Which points up the growing power of the public opinion surveys which have mushroomed in this country. It was such a political poll in New Hampshire that forced George Romney out of the race for the White House.

It may be that Rockefeller handed his party's nomination to Richard Nixon on a silver platter by his actions, but the New York governor may still be leaving his door open for a draft by the GOP convention.

Again, it will be the political pollsters who decide Rockefeller's chances of getting that draft. By withdrawing as an active candidate, the governor distracts from Nixon's efforts to prove himself a winner, because no one is opposing him. Also, as time goes by, Nixon must take public stands on more and more issues, which makes him vulnerable to attack.

By June and July the pollsters will be making their crucial pre-convention public opinion samplings. If these polls show that Nixon can be beaten by any of the Democratic candidates, it may be the beginning of that "Draft Rockefeller" sentiment which the Governor's adherents are hoping for.

Conversely, if these same polls show that Rockefeller would run stronger than Nixon in key states with the most electoral college votes, the draft could turn into a political hurricane that could sweep the governor to the top of the Republican ticket. Maybe.

The Republican presidential convention opens in Miami on August 5. For a while today it looked like it might be a rather boring Nixon love-fest. However, it could be as gory and exciting political donnybrook as the Democrats expect in Chicago three weeks later.

This is Bill Downs in Washington.