1960 Presidential Election


In 1958, Democratic seizure of American politics tightened its grip. With 64 Senate seats, 283 House seats, and 35 states with Democratic governors, the environment for active policy and social change ripened. For the 1960 election, Sens. John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Hubert Humphrey raced for the Democratic nomination. Kennedy was from a wealthy and well-known family, but had a short political experience and was Catholic. Johnson had a distinguished career in public policy as majority leader, but a Southerner had not been elected since James K. Polk in 1844. Humphrey had popularity in the West appealing to the strong liberal vote, but had little financial support.

John Kennedy’s candidacy sparked the public’s fascination; he was young and charming, the son of a millionaire, Harvard graduate, a “war hero,” and Pulitzer Prize winner. However, his young age of 43 also played to his critics favor, and his Catholicism was scorned at. After outspending his competitors and winning the public’s affection, JFK received the nomination. He balanced his ticket with Lyndon Johnson, making the Yankee-Southerner, Catholic-Protestant alliance.

Richard Nixon was the supreme choice of the Republican party, and no one posed any real threat of him receiving the nomination. The vice president promised to continue the strong policies of President Eisenhower and paraded his long public career experience in attempt to shine poor light on Kennedy’ s lack there of. For a long while, his campaign worked and he led the polls without any sweat, though his perspiration would later come to be a key factor in the election.

Kennedy called for a more activist approach. Nixon wanted innovative approaches as well, yet he failed to distinguish them for the voting public. The most impacting moment of the election arrived during the first televised presidential debate. Kennedy appeared tan, relaxed, and eager. Nixon was tired after heavy campaigning, pale and sweating from the hot television lights – overall portraying a pasty, disgruntled old man image contrasted with Kennedy’s composed and appealing manner. Their appearances greatly influenced the outcomes of the debates; radio listeners polled gave the debate to Nixon, while television viewers gave the same debate to Kennedy.

The election was closer than expected and Nixon did not concede until the following day of the results. Nixon blamed voter fraud for his defeat, and this upset would haunt him for years and lead to his political paranoia. Kennedy won 303 electoral votes to Nixon’s 219, though Nixon won three more states than Kennedy did.