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  5-Way NH Primary Debate
Title5-Way NH Primary Debate
Start Date/TimeMarch 05, 1972 05:00pm
End Date/TimeMarch 05, 1972 06:30pm
Last ModifiedChronicler - September 30, 2008 08:10pm
DescriptionFour Democratic presidential debates were held during the primaries of 1972. The first debate was held on 3/5/1972, two days before the New Hampshire primary. This was the first presidential primary debate to have more than two participating candidates. Three debates were held later in the primary season.

The first movement toward holding a debate during the wide-open Democratic primaries began in Florida, where John V. Lindsay focused his campaign against George Wallace. On 1/21/1972, Lindsay first challenged Wallace to a debate (New York Times 1/22/1972). Wallace, leading in the Florida polls, declined the challenge two days later (New York Times 1/24/1972).

The Democratic Party in New Hampshire still had not healed from the Johnson vs. McCarthy primary of 1968. At first, the entry of Sen. Muskie of nearby Maine promised to make New Hampshire a quick victory and thus avoid the tension between the two factions. Most party leaders lined up behind Muskie quickly, and when Sen. Hartke entered the race, Hugh Gallen called on him (12/28/1971) to stay out of New Hampshire [New York Times 2/13/1972]. Muskie's Democratic challengers began to shift their attacks from the Nixon administration to Muskie's policies as the primary neared. Sen. George McGovern, the most fiesty of these challengers, called for a televised debate [New York Times 2/13/1972].

The importance of the New Hampshire primary was coming under fire at the time, as the changes in the primary and caucus system were first being used in 1972. Many politicians objected to allowing the 43d largest state to have such a great influence on the process - especially since the state rarely exercised influence in earlier years. A further challenge was that four key Democratic contenders did not file in the state: Humphrey, Lindsay, Jackson, and Wallace. R.W. Apple of the New York Times reported on 2/14/1972, "It is argued by some experts here ... that the New Hampshire primary has become an anachronism, that 1968 was its last hour in the national sun" [New York Times, 2/14/1972].

Muskie agreed to participate in a debate in New Hampshire on 2/22/1972. He had earlier said he would not participate in a balkanized debate in which he would face one candidate in one state and another candidate in a debate in another state [New York Times 2/23/1972]. When the debate was planned, the five men who had filed to appear on the New Hampshire primary ballot agreed to attend: Muskie, McGovern, Hartke, Yorty, and Edward Coll [New York Times 2/24/1972].

Quick Facts
When: 6:00-7:30 p.m. (EST), 3/5/1972
Where: Manchester NH. Carried only by PBS; aired live in New York City and Boston but beginning at 10:35 elsewhere.
Panel: local New Hampshire reporters
Number of viewers/listeners: undetermined but considered at the time to have been low due to the limited number of PBS stations in the nation at that time.
Topics: Foreign, domestic policy

Transcript: not available.

Format: Four-minute opening statements, questions and answers, three-minute closing statements.

Setting: The candidates sat behind a slightly convex table. From the viewers' perspective, the candidates were (left to right) Coll, McGovern, Hartke, Muskie, and Yorty.

The debate was a rather mild affair, with the candidates not directly attacking each other.

All candidates favored action to bring the Vietnam conflict to an end. Muskie stated that he, McGovern, and Hartke had similar records on Senate votes on Vietnam. McGovern used time for answering a different question to challenge Muskie on his statement, since Muskie had supported President Johnson's war policy until mid-1968, long after he and Hartke had decided to work to end the conflict.

The candidates made specific appeals to the primary voters. Muskie emphasized his proximity, as he grew up just 25 miles across the state line. McGovern stated that every candidate should identify all campaign contributors so that the voters would know who was funding each candidate's campaign. Hartke pointed to his efforts to install import quotas on shoes and textiles (two industries then suffering in NH). Yorty spoke against the "left liberal" Senators who had voted against supersonic transport programs. Edward Coll frequently interrupted the discussions by waving a rubber rat to gain attention. His chief issue was addressing urban decay.

Muskie denied McGovern's charge regarding campaign disclosure. He said that he was the first candidate for President to release the names of contributors, but he wanted to wait for another disclosure until a newly passed law took effect on 4/7/1972.

During the debate, Yorty complained about its handling. He said "these Senators don't have much to argue about," suggesting that he was the only candidate with a different view on the issues. [NYT 3/6/1972]

Immediately after the end of the debate, supporters of Muskie and McGovern started a shouting match regarding release of the names of campaign contributors. McGovern's campaign had stated a report released by the campaign identified all of his contributors, but Muskie supporters identified several people who had contributed over $1,000 but were not listed [New York Times, 3/6/1972].

The debate itself disappointed the candidates and political observers. Muskie said "that wasn't a debate." McGovern called it "a little dull" [NYT 3/6/1972]. One aide to Muskie said "I would think this would be the end of the debates" [NYT 3/6/1972]. The following day, the New York Times editorialized on the debate, calling it "fatuous and anti-climactic" and "debased." It called the debate "organized nonsense" in which the challengers tried to woo the front-runner (Muskie) to respond and make a mistake [NYT 3/7/1972].

In the days after the debate, the details of the campaign disclosure disagreements became the defining issue [NYT 3/8/1972]. In the end, Muskie's reluctance to disclose his contributors helped McGovern. Muskie won the primary with 46% to 37% for McGovern; Yorty placed a distant third with just 6%.

A primary debate was scheduled for 3/14/1972 in Florida among the contenders there, but it was later cancelled [NYT 3/5/1972].

2d Democratic primary debate of 1972: [Link]

3d Democratic primary debate of 1972: [Link]

4th Democratic primary debate of 1972: [Link]

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