Johnson’s decisive victory over Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election always comes to the fore when the topic of a landslide election comes up.
Johnson was vice president under President John F. Kennedy, and became president after Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963. LBJ had been in office only a few months when the 1964 presidential campaign began in January of the same year. It was postponed after the murder.
The Johnson-Goldwater feud offered a clear choice between the incumbent president, a centrist Democrat, and Goldwater, a staunchly conservative Republican. Johnson’s campaign tried to portray Goldwater as a dangerous battleship, while Goldwater’s campaign attacked Johnson as being too lenient.
Goldwater had some ties to the South Bay, which brought him to the region in 1963, when he had already made it clear that he was running for president. Members of the Peninsula Republican Men’s Club presented him with an award in April 1963 in Torrance, where he was helping his daughter with a project at her home. Social/political events were also organized for another daughter, Mrs. Thomas H. Ross, who lived in Redondo Beach, where her husband practices medicine.
After the campaign began in 1964, Goldwater established a strong South Bay presence.
The first Goldwater for President’s office in Torrance opened on January 11, 1964 at 4729 Torrance Blvd., where Scardino’s Italian restaurant is currently located.
His expedition later moved his headquarters to 1323 El Prado in Torrance, across the street from McCown’s Rexall drugstore. The small storefront building still stands, just north of the Clutch & Coffee restaurant in downtown Torrance.
Goldwater had to cancel her first major South Bay campaign appearance on April 6, 1964, at Ascot Park near Gardena, because she had to stay in Washington DC for a congressional debate on civil rights legislation.
On May 16, the Palos Verdes Young Republicans sponsored a one-day cruise to Catalina Island, where those who paid $10 for a ticket had the chance to meet Goldwater in person.
Goldwater appeared at a major campaign rally at El Camino Stadium (later renamed Murdock Stadium) on the El Camino College campus on August 22, 1964. The 7,000-seat venue was filled for the event, with tickets costing $1.50. Local US Representative Alfonso Bell started Goldwater.
Kishor also joined the local campaign. The Torrance Teenagers for Goldwater group held a Bake Sale fundraiser in Torrance on October 4.
At Torrance High School, history teacher James Armstrong involved three of his classes in projects related to the presidential election. (Armstrong later became one of Torrance’s best-known mayors, serving from 1978 to 1986.)
They spent a total of 18 hours participating in out-of-class activities related to the campaign, choosing the side they wanted to be involved with.
Groups of South Bay and Harbor Area Goldwater supporters also made pilgrimages to the Los Angeles Sports Arena on March 19, Dodger Stadium for another large rally on September 16, and then, closer to the November 3 election, back to the sports arena. .
As for Johnson, he had no such local connection. His local Democratic headquarters in Torrance did not open until October 11, 1964, less than a month before the office election. It was located at 1876 Torrance Blvd., currently the site of a residential housing development.
Supporters of South Bay Johnson greet Johnson when Air Force One arrived at Long Beach Airport on the same day its Torrance headquarters opened. From there, he accompanied Johnson to his public speech at the South Gate, bypassing South Bay.
Newspapers in the area provide no evidence that Johnson made any personal presence in the South Bay during the campaign.
So how did this all happen locally? Goldwater may have lost the national race by a huge margin, but it did win in several cities in the South Bay.
Goldwater won the city of Torrence by more than 1,000 votes – 24,293 to 23,241, according to nearly perfect results for selected cities reported in the Torrance Press-Herald. Thanks to strong Republican support on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Goldwater won the Rolling Hills estates by a vote of 2,351 to 868. This was the biggest difference for him in the field.
Johnson had a winning margin in the county areas of Carson, Lomita and the City of Los Angeles and in the South Bay. He also won in Los Angeles County by over 400,000 votes and in the state of California by over 1 million (59.11% to 40.79%).
Nationally, Johnson defeated Goldwater by nearly 16 million votes, leading from 61.1% to Goldwater’s 38.5%. Johnson’s final margin in the Electoral College was 486–52. He led 44 states to Goldwater’s six.
Sources: Los Angeles Times Archives; “The Most One-sided Presidential Election in America’s History” by Tom Murs, ThoughtCo. website, January 15, 2020; Palos Verdes Peninsula News Archives; Torrance Press-Herald Archives; Wikipedia.