Our state’s first-in-the-nation primary gives sincere candidates without access to dark money a chance to make their case.

by Jim Splaine, The Nation

Not all that long ago, America was at war. The Vietnam conflict of the 1960s and ’70s meant the deaths of our young people, then subjected to mandatory drafts to fill quotas. Over 50,000 Americans and allies died, with many others suffering lifelong injuries. An estimated 3 million-plus citizens of North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia were killed. President after president got our nation more deeply involved, with no ending in sight—goaded in large part by the military-industrial complex.

In 1968, Eugene McCarthy, a little-known US senator from Minnesota, decided to run for president. Anti–Vietnam War activists became involved in his campaign in the first-in-the-nation primary that year. Underfunded, with little national name recognition and no political network of support, McCarthy did well in New Hampshire’s primary, encouraging New York Senator Robert Kennedy to announce his candidacy. Within two weeks, President Lyndon Johnson decided not to run for reelection.

An elderly woman votes in a school gym during the New Hampshire presidential primary.

Richard Nixon won that November, but the movement to end the war continued. As 1972 drew near, another unknown, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, came to our state to challenge the candidate who had national support from establishment Democrats, Senator Edmund Muskie from neighboring Maine. On election day, Muskie received 46 percent of the vote, short of a majority.

Underfunded and not considered by the Washington powers that be of the time worthy of support, McGovern saw his 37 percent propel him onto the national stage, and he became the Democratic presidential nominee that year. He lost to Nixon but made opposition to the Vietnam tragedy the goal of a new, young, revitalized generation of voters. The war ended three years later.

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