5 Historic Presidential Campaign Collapses


Edmund Muskie's Snowflake Problem

By all accounts, Ed Muskie was prime presidential material. Standing at 6 feet, 4 inches (1.93 meters), the "Lincolnesque" senator and former governor of Maine had earned a reputation as one of the most intelligent and influential Democrats in Congress [source: PBS NewsHour]. In 1968, Muskie ran as the vice presidential candidate on Hubert Humphrey's losing ticket. By the 1972 Democratic primaries, Muskie was considered the frontrunner and the best hope for defeating incumbent Richard Nixon.

But that was before New Hampshire. A man named William Loeb was the publisher of an extremely conservative New Hampshire newspaper called the Manchester Union Leader. Loeb was famous for his provocative front-page editorials attacking his political foes. In the week leading up to the New Hampshire primary, Loeb published an editorial called "Moscow Muskie" that questioned the candidate's patriotism. But it was a second editorial targeting Muskie's wife that sent the normally reserved candidate over the brink [source: PBS NewsHour].

On a frigid New Hampshire morning, Muskie led a group of staffers and reporters to the steps of the Manchester Union Leader offices to denounce the libelous personal attacks made by the paper. As snow began to fall, Muskie called Loeb a "gutless coward" who was "fortunate [that he's] not on this platform beside me." What happens next is a point of historical controversy. Reporters at the scene say that Muskie choked up and wept silently when coming to the defense of his wife. Muskie's staff claimed that it was just snow melting on his cheeks. A photo of Muskie's contorted face accompanied newspaper headlines across the country. The candidate's tears became the story, not the newspaper's attack.

Muskie still won the New Hampshire primary by a margin of 46 percent to George McGovern's 37 percent, but the numbers were much lower than expected [source: Broder]. The damage had been done. Muskie's opponents cast him as a weakling and a crybaby. It would later be revealed that the source for Loeb's "Moscow Muskie" editorial was a letter forged by a member of Nixon's white house staff [source: Broder].

Don't cry for Muskie, though. He abandoned his presidential aspirations, but went on to serve as Secretary of State in 1980, successfully negotiating the release of the American hostages held in Iran [source: PBS NewsHour].