On June 5, 1968, a few minutes after midnight, Robert Kennedy was shot and killed at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles while walking through a narrow serving area called “the pantry.” Kennedy had just won the California primary and was on his way to a room where print media reporters were waiting to hear him speak.
In early March, Lyndon B. Johnson had thrown open the race by announcing that he would not seek re-election because of the failure of his Vietnam policy. Kennedy emerged as a leading contender by energizing the youth wing of the party with his calls for sweeping social change.
Kennedy was in many ways a strange liberal icon because he grew up idolizing Herbert Hoover, was closest in his family to his father, Joseph, the millionaire business tycoon, began his career supporting Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch-hunt, called for victory against communism in Vietnam in the early 1960s, and oversaw a terrorist campaign designed to overthrow the Cuban government.
Nevertheless, by the latter part of the 1960s, Kennedy had evolved into a crusader for the poor and dove on Vietnam who was trying to ride the wave of the protest movement into the White House.
Biographers Lester and Irene David wrote that Bobby was the Kennedy who “felt deepest, cared the most, and fought the hardest for humanity—crying out against America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, championing the causes of blacks, Hispanics, and Mexican-Americans, and crusading against the suffering of children, the elderly and anyone else hurt or bypassed by social and economic progress.”
After Kennedy’s death, the Democratic Party became a shadow of its former self, with six of the next nine presidents being Republicans. The Party in this period abandoned its core base—union laborers, minorities, and blue-collar workers—focusing instead on Wall Street.