Robert Kennedy Wins Indiana Primary

The winner in an election is still the man who gets the most votes. And by that standard, Robert Kennedy, who held an 11 point margin over Gov. Roger Branigin and 15 points over Sen. Eugene McCarthy, won the Indiana primary.

By the same token, when a man finishes third out of a field of three, he is the clear loser. McCarthy lost in Indiana. It is nonsense for the Minnesota senator to play the game that he could have won in a two way contest with Kennedy alone. The final NEWSWEEK Poll, which was taken on the eve of the primary, showed that in a two-way race Kennedy would have overwhelmed McCarthy by 61 to 39 percent.

But in the end Bobby's Indiana victory was far from overwhelming. For all his own earlier poor-mouthing, the first full survey for NEWSWEEK, conducted two weeks before balloting, showed Bobby solidly ahead with an indicated plurality of close to 50 percent. But in the last 5 days he began to slip, and his final total came to rest at 42 percent.

To a degree, Kennedy was hurt by a Republican crossover, which an analysis of the voting results indicates came to 9 percent. This cost him 2 points.

'Gut' Vote: Kennedy's slippage from close to 50 percent denied him the breakthrough he had hoped to win in Indiana. By primary day, he was reduced to the hard-core "gut" vote—enough to make him the winner, but not necessarily enough to make him the winner, but not necessarily enough to make him the man for all seasons. The results themselves show that he ended up in a dead heat with Roger Branigin in the small towns and rural areas, and that his entire margin of victory was won in the cities, where he led by a thumping 54 to 28 percent over Senator McCarthy. He swept the Catholics by 50 to 28 percent over McCarthy and 22 percent for Branigin. And among Negroes Bobby amassed a huge 83 percent edge. When the electorate is divided by occupation, a similar pattern was evident. Kennedy finished in last place among professional, executive and white-collar voters, with 29 percent for Branigin and 36 percent for McCarthy. But he more than made up for this deficit by taking the industrial worker group by 48 to 28 percent for Branigin and 24 percent for McCarthy.

In Indiana, Kennedy thus won on the strength of the gut vote, and, in fact, went a long way toward establishing his claim as perhaps the likeliest Democrat in 1968 who can deliver both the Negro and the lower-income, white urban vote.

But he paid a price for his victory. In Indiana, he had the luck of a lopsided ethnic draw. Nationally this is not the case, and at last reading, his national standing with the voters was sagging. Easily the fastest-growing part of the electorate is college-educated voters. They made up 23 percent of the Indiana primary and are an even larger 29 percent of the nation's voters in 1968. As Kennedy veered to his course of criticism of welfare, advocacy of stern law and order, opposition to federally concentrated programs, the affluent group dropped from 40 to a final 27 percent in his column. He finished a poor third to both McCarthy and Branigin among the best educated in this primary, while he swept the least educated by better than 2 to 1.

Backfire: In Indiana, the primary system that had been so generous to McCarthy in New Hampshire and Wisconsin began to backfire. For the Minnesota senator was dealt not one but two defeats in this primary. Indiana proved that McCarthy has not yet found a way to appeal to the gut vote. He has always countered this point by citing his appeal to the more conservative, the more affluent and the younger sectors of the electorate. But in Indiana, he lost the under-35 group 26-55 percent to Kennedy.

In the end, McCarthy was left with solid strength only in the college towns and among the affluent, hardly enough to mount close to a majority anywhere. The irony for Senator McCarthy now is that unless he can reverse things in the remaining tests after Indiana, the primaries where he earned his national reputation may be just the wrong way for him to make his run. His standing in the polls among all the voters, including independence and Republicans, is considerably higher than among the rank-and-file of Democrats, especially when he is pitted against Robert Kennedy.

So Indiana as of last week reversed the roles of Kennedy and McCarthy. For Kennedy, if he can reproduce his first victory, the primaries hold out his best hope for convincing the professionals he is a winner. McCarthy, who more and more resembles Adlai Stevenson in his appeal and style, now would appear to stand his best chance by emphasizing his role as a Democratic Nelson Rockefeller able to penetrate the opposing party's ranks.

Join the Discussion