During Nixon's second administration, leading liberal Democratic thinkers worried that the party was moving to the center and abandoning the old New Deal approach to the challenges of the day. On 8/26/1974, weeks after Nixon resigned, a gathering of these liberal Democrats met and formed the "Committee for a Constitutional Presidency." The group decided to form state organizations to offer a "realistic choice" for President in 1976. Eugene McCarthy was chosen as the temporary chairman of the nationwide organization. New York Times 8/27/1974
Although liberal Democrats were among the most noticeable winners of the 1974 Democratic landslide, the party continued to move to the center. By the time McCarthy held a press conference on 12/11/1974, in which he announced his opposition to the recent campaign finance reform measures passed by Congress, he had already decided to run for President as an Independent in 1976. New York Times 12/12/1974
McCarthy announced his candidacay in Madison WI on 1/12/1975. In his speech, he said that the national Democratic Party spent too much time trying to "hedge and compromise." New York Times 1/13/1975.
McCarthy spent most of the year 1975 on two fronts: identifying his liberal agenda and refusing to allow Federal Elections Commission audits of his records. McCarthy argued that the 1974 campaign finance law was unconstitutional and that federal officials had no right to see his campaign's financial records. The federal officials were charged with examining the receipts and expenditures of candidates to determine who to give federal money to. New York Times 8/31/1975.
As the primary season began in 1976, McCarthy sought ways to keep his name in the press. On 2/5/1976, McCarthy announced his choice of William C. Ford, a vice president of Ford Motor Company, to run for vice president. In his announcement, McCarthy stated that he expected to spend about $500,000 on his campaign. New York Times, 2/6/1976. As it turned out, Ford decided not to run and officially withdrew on 2/11/1976 ( New York Times 2/12/1976). Eventually, McCarthy determined that the office of vice president should abolished and did not choose a new running mate.
Low visibility plagued McCarthy's campaign in early 1976. By 7/9/1976, he had only achieved ballot status in four states - though his attorneys were challenging laws hoping to get on the ballot in states where the deadline had passed. An employee for the Lou Harris polling agency told McCarthy that a poll just before Independence Day showed McCarthy with 10% of the vote in a three-way Ford-Carter-McCarthy race. By that time, McCarthy was using his speeches to focus on ways to limit the role of the President. New York Times 7/10/1976.
A major blow to McCarthy's campaign came when he was denied a place in the presidential debates. He and Lester Maddox unsucessfully pressured the League of Women Voters to include them, demanding equal time. New York Times 8/29/1976.
A second blow to McCarthy's campaign came when the Carter campaign began to challenge McCarthy's petitions. Carter successfully kept McCarthy off the ballot in key states such as New York and California. New York Times 9/14/1976. In the final days of the campaign, McCarthy took his fight to appear on the ballot in New York all the way to the US Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously in favor of the state board of elections (which stated that McCarthy's petitions were faulty). New York Times 10/30/1976.
As the polls showed the presidential race tightening, McCarthy's support continued to slip as his supporters feared that voting for him might lead to Ford's re-election. With the news of his failure to appear on the New York ballots being made just four days before the election, McCarthy cancelled his victory party. New York Times 11/2/1976 (election day)
In the end, McCarthy won 756,762 votes, or about 1% of the popular vote. His vote represented more than Ford's margin of victory in IA, ME, OK, and OR. His best state in terms of percentage was Oregon with 4%; he won over 2% in six other states.
Popular Vote of 1976