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‹ 1960 United States  1968
Republican Presidential Primaries, 1964

The Republican Party was badly divided in 1964 between its conservative and moderate-liberal factions. Former Vice-President Richard Nixon, who had been beaten by Kennedy in the extremely close 1960 presidential election (subsequently losing the 1962 election for Governor of California) decided not to run. Nixon, a moderate with ties to both wings of the GOP, had been able to unite the factions in 1960; in his absence the way was clear for the two factions to engage in an all-out political civil war for the nomination. Barry Goldwater, a Senator from Arizona, was the champion of the conservatives. The conservatives had historically been based in the American Midwest, but beginning in the 1950s the conservatives had been gaining in power in the South and West. The conservatives favored a low-tax, small federal government which supported individual rights and business interests and opposed social welfare programs. The conservatives also resented the dominance of the GOP's moderate wing, which was based in the Northeastern United States. Since 1940 the Eastern moderates had successfully defeated conservative presidential candidates at the GOP's national conventions. The conservatives believed the Eastern moderates were little different from liberal Democrats in their philosophy and approach to government. Goldwater's chief opponent for the Republican nomination was Nelson Rockefeller, the Governor of New York and the longtime leader of the GOP's liberal-moderate faction. When Rockefeller was knocked out of the race by Goldwater, the party's moderates and liberals turned to William Scranton, the Governor of Pennsylvania, in the hopes that he could stop Goldwater.

Candidates gallery


Potential candidates who did not run

The campaign

Republican primaries results

In the New Hampshire primary, Rockefeller and Goldwater were considered to be the front-runners, but the voters gave a surprising victory to the U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., Nixon's running mate in 1960 and a former Massachusetts senator. Lodge was a write-in candidate.

Lodge went on to win the Massachusetts and New Jersey primaries before finally deciding that he didn't want the nomination; he subsequently gave a speech in which he announced that he was not a presidential candidate.

Despite his defeat in New Hampshire, Goldwater pressed on, winning the Illinois, Texas, and Indiana primaries with little opposition, and Nebraska's primary after a stiff challenge from a draft-Nixon movement. Goldwater also won a number of state caucuses and gathered even more delegates. Meanwhile, Nelson Rockefeller won the West Virginia and Oregon primaries against Goldwater, and William Scranton won in his home state of Pennsylvania. Both Rockefeller and Scranton also won several state caucuses, mostly in the Northeast.

The final showdown between Goldwater and Rockefeller was in the California primary. In 1963 Rockefeller had earned unfavorable publicity when he suddenly divorced his wife and soon thereafter remarried a much younger woman. The fact that the woman, Happy Murphy, had also suddenly divorced her husband before marrying Rockefeller led to rumors that Rockefeller had been having an extramarital affair with her. This angered many social conservatives within the GOP; many of whom whispered that Rockefeller was a "wife stealer". In spite of these accusations, Rockefeller led Goldwater in most opinion polls in California, and he appeared headed for victory when his new wife gave birth to a son, Nelson Rockefeller, Jr., a few days before the primary. His son's birth brought the issue of adultery front and center, and Rockefeller suddenly lost ground in the polls. Goldwater won the primary by a narrow 51% - 49% margin, thus eliminating Rockefeller as a serious contender and all but clinching the nomination.

Total popular vote

The 1964 Republican National Convention at San Francisco's Cow Palace arena was one of the most bitter on record, as the party's moderates and conservatives openly expressed their contempt for each other. Rockefeller was loudly booed when he came to the podium for his speech; in his speech he roundly criticized the party's conservatives, which led many conservatives in the galleries to yell and scream at him. A group of moderates tried to rally behind Scranton to stop Goldwater, but Goldwater's forces easily brushed his challenge aside, and Goldwater was nominated on the first ballot. The presidential tally was as follows:

The vice-presidential nomination went to little-known Republican Party Chairman William E. Miller, a Congressman from upstate New York. Goldwater stated that he chose Miller simply because "he drives [President] Johnson nuts."

In accepting his nomination, Goldwater uttered his most famous phrase: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” For many GOP moderates, Goldwater's speech was seen as a deliberate insult, and many of these moderates would defect to the Democrats in the fall election.


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