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5 June 2011

On this day in history: Bobby Kennedy assassinated, 1968

In March 1968 the incumbent President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, declared that he would not be seeking the nomination of the Democratic Party in the upcoming presidential elections. Although he did not say so at the time, he made this decision because of his failing health. This move left three front-runners in the race for nomination: Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, who announced his candidacy following Johnson's withdrawal ; Senator Robert F. Kennedy, former At tourney General and brother of President John F. Kennedy who was assassinated in 1963; and Senator Eugene McCarthy (not to be confused with Senator Joe McCarthy, famous for his witch-hunt of Communists) who voiced opposition to the war in Vietnam.

Humphrey decided to focus on securing delegate votes from states that did not hold primaries, leaving Kennedy, McCarthy and the other remaining candidates to fight for the delegate votes from the thirteen states that held primaries. Johnson had won the New Hampshire primary before his withdrawal and another two candidates won the primaries in their home states: Senator George Smathers in Florida and Senator Stephen M. Young in Ohio.

On 4th June 1968, three states held their Democratic primaries: California, New Jersey and South Dakota - with California being seen as a key battleground between Kennedy, who had so far won two primaries, and McCarthy, who had taken four. McCarthy added New Jersey to his tally but Kennedy won in South Dakota and California where he had been campaigning that day.

Just after midnight on the 5th June, Kennedy made his through a crowd in the Embassy Ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles. These supporters had just listened to his victory speech; however, one man had a different motive for being there. As Kennedy shook the hand of a bus-boy, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, a Palestinian immigrant, drew a .22 calibre Iver-Johnson Cadet revolver and fired repeatedly at the presidential candidate. Kennedy had been hit once just behind his right ear, and twice behind his right arm-pit. Despite the best efforts of medical staff at two Los Angeles hospitals he died from his injuries around twenty-six hours after the shooting.

Onlookers had wrestled Kennedy's assassin to the ground before he was arrested. Sirhan was born in Jerusalem where he was raised as a Maronite Christian before emigrating to America where he became an anti-Zionist, blaming Kennedy for supporting Israel in the Six-day-War the year before. In 1969 he was sentenced to death, but this was later commuted to life imprisonment in 1972.

In the end, Humphrey won the Democratic candidacy for the presidential elections, which he lost to the Republican candidate Richard M. Nixon.

Along with his brother, Bobby Kennedy remains a major figure of the twentieth-century. The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial web site attests to his legacy and includes a biography page.

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