Mr. Gravel drew much more national attention on June 29, 1971. The New York Times and other newspapers were ordered to cease publishing the Pentagon Papers, a secret, detailed government study of the war in Vietnam.
He was reading aloud from the newspapers at a subcommittee hearing he quickly convened after Republicans thwarted his efforts to read it to the entire Senate. He read for about three hours, then finally burst into tears, and said, “Arms are being severed, metal cracking through human bodies for a public policy that continues to support this government and all of its branches.” The Supreme Court overturned the injunction against The Times the next day.)
Mr Gravel admitted many years later that his political ambition led him to support the Vietnam War early in his political career, although he said he personally spoke out against it.
In his main 1968 Democratic request to Senator Ernest Gruening, one of two senators to vote against the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing President Lyndon B. Johnson to use conventional military force in Southeast Asia, Gravel said North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, rather than the United States, was the aggressor. In 2007, when he was running for president, he told an NPR interviewer, “I said what I said in 1968 because it should advance my career.”
In the same year he told Salon magazine that the people of Alaska did not share Mr. Gruening’s opposition to the war at the time and that “when I ran for a realistic politician, all I had to do was get up and not bother with the subject. and people would assume that I was on Ernest Grüning’s right when in reality I was on his left. “
Mr. Gravel won this primary by emphasizing his youth (he was 38 versus Mr. Gruening 81) and campaigning in the smallest villages where he showed a half-hour film about his campaign. In the general election, he defeated his Republican rival Elmer E. Rasmuson, a banker and former mayor of Anchorage.