Senator Edmund S. Muskie was the clear frontrunner in the 1972 Democratic presidential primary, when he committed a gaffe now known among politicos simply as the “Muskie moment”. In one of the classic meltdowns in campaign history, Muskie broke down and cried in front of reporters after allegations that his wife drank too much and swore in public. Muskie tried and failed to convince the voters that they weren’t tears, but melted snowflakes running down his cheeks.
He was responding to a particularly vicious political attack published in the Manchester Union-Leader, accusing the Senator’s wife of using foul language and drinking while on the campaign trail. Publisher William Loeb had been printing editorial attacks on Muskie, including the “Canuck Letter” which accused Muskie of a bias toward Americans of French-Canadian descent. (These were allegedly written by the incumbent president Richard Nixon’s aides). In response, Muskie gave an emotional speech in the New Hampshire snow defending his wife, and several journalists reported that Muskie cried during the speech. As he vehemently defended his wife, Muskie’s speech broke three times as he rubbed his face and tried to regain his composure.
Muskie claimed that he did not cry, and journalists merely saw as melted snow on his face. Previously known as a calm, reasonable candidate, this moment made Muskie appear weak and emotional to voters. While Muskie went on to win the New Hampshire primary, it was not be by nearly as much as expected, and this moment more than any other lead to the nomination of George McGovern by the Democratic Party.