He was elected to Congress in 1970, replacing the Honorable James B. Utt in a special election, and quickly established himself as a leading conservative. He introduced the first Human Life Amendment in June 1972 (six months before Roe v. Wade). He received We the People's "Statesman of the Year" award in 1970, the National Economic Council's "Congressman of the Year" award in 1972, and the Congress of Freedom's "Man of the Year" award in 1972.
During his years "in the arena," he received many awards, including: California Republican Assembly "Legislator of the Year Award," 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1979, & 1980; Americans for Constitutional Action "Distinguished Service Award," 1970; National Associated Businessmen "Watchdog of the Treasury Award," 1970, 1972; Sons of the American Revolution "National Legislator's Award," 1971; Federation of Citizens of German Descent "Outstanding Citizen Award for Integrity and Honor," 1972; Membership in the China Academy, 1972; and the Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge "George Washington Medal," 1973.
He may well be remembered most for his 1972 candidacy for President of the United States representing the American Party and receiving 1.1 million votes in 32 states. Political historian Michael Barone observed that Schmitz distinguished himself in the campaign with his direct talk and "puckishly humorous" wit. Schmitz repeated often his elegantly simple campaign platform in three points: (1) in foreign affairs, we should always treat our friends better than our enemies; (2) never go to war unless you plan on winning; and (3) domestically, those who work ought to live better than those who won't.
Schmitz always took principled political stances, often finding himself in the minority. When asked about his strong conservatism, Schmitz explained that the "middle of the road" is determined by how far either side, left or right, is willing to push. However, political supporters and opponents alike were fond of and respected John Schmitz the man. "His sense of humor, intelligence and enthusiasm will long be remembered by his Orange County friends," said Tom Fuentes, Chairman of the Orange County Republican Party.