For some time, presidential primaries in New Jersey where nothing more than beauty contests where the preferred candidate of a voter was deemed so unimportant that their names did not appear on the ballot.
Instead, voters had to wrote in the name of their choice for president.
The real meat of the primary were races for delegate, which occurred at a time when the national and state parties had no rules to bind delegates to a specific presidential candidate.
Delegate slates were run by the county chairmen, who could then control votes as a national convention.
In 1968, there was no filing of petitions for presidential candidates to get on the ballot. Instead, the entire beauty contest primary was conducted through write-in votes.
On the Democratic side, Eugene McCarthy edged out Robert Kennedy by to win the presidential preference primary by 1,303 votes, 9,906 to 7,603. Hubert Humphrey finished third with 5,578 votes, followed by George Wallace (1,399). President Lyndon Johnson received 380 votes statewide, even though he had announced two months earlier that he would not seek re-election.
Those votes reflected the totals of 20 counties, since the Cape May County Clerk decided not to put the write-in option on the ballot.
Richard Nixon received 71,809 write-in votes, easily outdistancing Nelson Rockefeller (11,530) and Ronald Reagan (2,737). Scattered votes came in for John Lindsay (122) and Barry Goldwater (42).
In the at-large race for Democratic delegates, the Regular Democratic Organization slate of Gov. Richard Hughes, U.S. Senator Harrison Williams, former Gov. Robert Meyner, Jersey City Mayor John V. Kenny, and Democratic State Chairman/New Jersey Secretary of State Robert Burkhardt beat McCarthy’s candidates by a 2-1 margin. McCarthy won 19 of 76 district delegates.
At the tumultuous Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the party establishment delivered 62 first-ballot votes to Humphrey.
In Miami, where Republicans were holding their convention, New Jersey played a pivotal role in nominating Richard Nixon on the first ballot.
The plan was for all 40 New Jersey GOP delegates – elected as Republican Party Organization candidates — to vote for U.S. Senator Clifford Case on the first ballot as a way to help deny Nixon the nomination.
But Nixon, with the help of State Sen. William Hiering (R-Toms River), Bergen County GOP Chairman Nelson Gross, Monmouth County GOP Chairman J. Russell Woolley, and State Sen. Frank Farley and legendary Atlantic Republican boss Frank “Hap” Farley (R-Ventnor) peeled off 18 delegates to agreed to vote for him on the first ballot.
This caused one of the tenser moments in modern New Jersey political history.
Case and Republican State Chairman Webster Todd (the father of future Gov. Christine Todd Whitman) tried desperately to hold the 40-member delegation. Case told delegates that a vote for Nixon was a vote against him.
He told delegates there would be retribution, and when the convention came, he called for the delegation to be polled. One after another, in front of the entire convention and on national television, each of New Jersey’s 40 Republican delegates had to state their individual preference.
Nixon won the nomination on the first ballot by just 25 votes.