The 1972 Election
The 1972 Election
The Democratic Party was unable to capitalize on the flow of Watergate stories to win the presidential election in 1972. The strongest Democratic candidate appeared to be Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine. The Nixon White House used a conservative New Hampshire newspaper to discredit Muskie. First, the paper published a letter to the editor whose author claimed that Muskie had made derogatory remarks about the French Canadians; the purpose was to turn the large French population of New England against him. (The letter was later revealed to have been a total fabrication written by a Nixon sup- porter.) Second, the newspaper published a story that made numerous personal slurs against Muskie’s wife, Jane. When Muskie made an angry speech in her defense, many voters got the impression that he was too emotional to hold high office; Democratic voters divided their support between Muskie and George McGovern.
Nixon defeated McGovern by a landslide; he carried 49 states. Throughout his campaign, he had denied all knowledge of the Watergate burglary, and White House spokesmen had repeatedly denied all the allegations published in the Post and in other newspapers. In fact, Nixon blamed the Post for trying to smear his reputation; he even accused the paper of being in the pay of the Democratic Party. However, the stories kept coming; Woodward and Bernstein provided so many specific details of questionable or clearly illegal activity that Congress eventually called for an official investigation. In the end, Watergate burglar James McCord confessed to the Senate that the Watergate break-in had been planned in the Oval Office. In June 1973, presidential aide John Dean testified fully concerning the president’s complicity in the burglary and the attempted cover-up. These hearings were nationally televised; for weeks on end, millions of Americans watched in disbelief as the elaborate structure of secrecy Nixon had built around himself collapsed into dust.
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