December 12, 2005
Sen. Eugene McCarthy, opponent of Vietnam War, Dec. 10
U.S. Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy, D-Minn., whose surprisingly strong showing in the 1968 New Hampshire presidential primary dramatized deepening public opposition to the Vietnam War and effectively ended President Lyndon B. Johnson's political career, died at a retirement home in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2005. He was 89. A relatively obscure senator who turned sour on the war as the U.S. escalated its troop buildup in the mid-1960s, McCarthy's candidacy initially was dismissed as hopelessly quixotic. But the campaign caught fire with young people -- the vanguard of opposition to the Vietnam War. Many cut their long hair and put on fresh clothes to help impress older voters. Be "Clean for Gene" became their watchwords. LBJ did win -- but not easily, garnering 49 percent of the vote to McCarthy's 42 percent. The results showed that LBJ was vulnerable, and jolted other politicians into action. Four days later, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, D-N.Y., who earlier had decided against seeking the nomination, reversed himself and jumped into the race. Two weeks after that, LBJ stunned the nation by announcing he would not seek a second term. RFK scored a major triumph when he won the California primary in early June, but that night he was assassinated at a Los Angeles hotel. Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey -- a fellow Minnesotan who had served in the Senate with McCarthy -- won the Democratic nomination and narrowly lost the November election to Republican Richard M. Nixon. Truculent as well as contrarian, Sen. McCarthy abruptly decided not to seek re-election to the Senate in 1970. His friend, the poet Robert Lowell, said of McCarthy, "The last thing he wanted to do was to be charismatic. He was a mixture of proud contempt and modest distaste ... Usually the cheers were greater when he came in than when he finished speaking."