Without much question, the third-party movement of George C. Wallace constituted the most unusual feature of the 1968 presidential election. While this movement failed by a substantial margin in its audacious attempt to throw the presidential contest into the House of Representatives, in any other terms it was a striking success. It represented the first noteworthy intrusion on a two-party election in twenty years. The Wallace ticket drew a larger proportion of the popular vote than any third presidential slate since 1924, and a greater proportion of electoral votes than any such movement for more than a century, back to the curiously divided election of 1860. Indeed, the spectre of an electoral college stalemate loomed sufficiently large that serious efforts at reform have since taken root.
At the same time, the Wallace candidacy was but one more dramatic addition to an unusually crowded rostrum of contenders, who throughout the spring season of primary elections were entering and leaving the lists under circumstances that ranged from the comic through the astonishing to the starkly tragic. Six months before the nominating conventions, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon had been the expected 1968 protagonists, with some greater degree of uncertainty, as usual, within the ranks of the party out of power. The nominating process for the Republicans followed the most-probable script rather closely, with the only excitement being provided by the spectacle of Governors Romney and Rockefeller proceeding as through revolving doors in an ineffectual set of moves aimed at providing a Republican alternative to the Nixon candidacy. Where things were supposed to be most routine on the Democratic side, however, surprises were legion, including the early enthusiasm for Eugene McCarthy, President Johnson's shocking announcement that he would not run, the assassination of Robert Kennedy in the flush of his first electoral successes, and the dark turmoil in and around the Chicago nominating convention, with new figures like Senators George McGovern and Edward Kennedy coming into focus as challengers to the heir apparent, Vice President Hubert Humphrey.