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In the closest finish since Benjamin Harrison defeated Grover Cleveland in 1888, on November 8, 1960, Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy won the presidency against Republican Vice-President Richard M. Nixon by a margin of 118,574 popular votes. He brought into office with him as his Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had been serving as Senate Majority Leader.
Kennedy had to contend with anti-Catholic sentiments throughout his campaign for the Democratic Party nomination, as well as his campaign for the presidency. On September 12, he told a televised meeting of the Greater Houston (Texas) Ministerial Association: "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute . . . . where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from . . . . (an) ecclestiastical source." Although some Republican leaders publicly questioned the wisdom of having a Roman Catholic President, Nixon did not consider Kennedy's religion to be a legitimate campaign issue.
The campaign itself was marked by the first ever appearance of the two candidates opposite each other on national television in what was billed as a series of four debates. Each candidate made an opening statement, after which they answered questions from newsmen. There were a few rebuttals, and a few re-rebuttals. Although Nixon came into the first debate with a reputation for being a good orator, his wan appearance and reluctance to argue with Kennedy's viewpoint marked him as the loser. Better makeup and a more forceful debating style made Nixon look and sound much better in the subsequent debates, and by the end of the fourth debate most political commentators "scored" the series as a draw.
A view of the studio in Washington, D. C., October
7, 1960, where Senator Kennedy (left) and Vice-President
Nixon are engaged in the second of their four campaign
debates. In the background is moderator Frank McGee. In
the foreground are four newspapermen who asked the
Both candidates endured a strenuous schedule throughout the campaign. Both took advantage of jet airliners to cross the country multiple times. Nixon visited all 50 states, while Kennedy skipped Hawaii and five other states; Kennedy left most of the southern campaigning to his running mate. Kennedy employed the "whistle-stop" technique by train in California and Michigan, while Nixon used a train across Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois. Everywhere they went, each man tried to outdo the other in crowds and voter enthusiasm. When Kennedy was treated to a ticker tape parade along Broadway in New York, New York, Nixon demanded one too.
Vice-Presidential candidate Henry
Cabot Lodge (left) and Nixon (right) with
President Dwight D. Eisenhower at a political rally in
New York City, New York, on November 2.
John F. Kennedy achieved victory by securing three New England states and other northern states with heavy electoral votes, along with seven southern states. Richard Nixon made the final tally close by sweeping most of the west, running strongly in the midwestern farm belt, and by securing three New England states, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. He lost most of the industrial states, however, and won only three southern states.
A Jacksonville, Florida, woman loads a washing
machine while other citizens vote at booths installed at
Because of the close margin in several states, Republican national chairman Thruston B. Martin raised the issue of whether there had been any election irregularities. Nixon disassociated himself from this movement, however, and issued a statement through aides that he would stand on the count which showed Kennedy the winner.
The Vote for President by State
*All 8 of Mississippi's electoral votes were cast by unpledged Democratic electors, all of whom voted for Harry F. Byrd.
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