The following account comes from my book, Pivotal Pennsylvania: Presidential Politics from FDR to the Twenty-First Century, published by the Pennsylvania Historical Association in 2008. As we contemplate many aspects of John F. Kennedy’s life in remembrance of his tragic assassination on November 22, 1963, the post below details his efforts to win the nomination and the role Pennsylvania played in his nomination and election. It’s a more detailed account than the Politically Uncorrected column Mike Young and I wrote a week ago.
1960: Kennedy and Nixon.
As the 1960 presidential election approached, the big political question facing the country was whether the Republicans could hold onto the White House without the popular Eisenhower at the head of the ticket. And the Republicans had much to worry about. At home unemployment exceeded six percent, and abroad the U-2 incident, a situation in which the Soviets shot down an American surveillance plane, unsettled the nation, and the launching of the first Soviet satellite into space pushed the Cold War into a new phase.
The Republican nomination was a forgone conclusion. Waiting dutifully in the wings was the Vice President Richard Nixon. The Vice President had worked closely with party leaders during his time in office, especially campaigning on behalf of the party’s local, state and congressional candidates. Virtually the entire Republican establishment was behind him, including the financial contributors. For example, Nixon won the Pennsylvania April primary; he earned almost 1 million popular votes to 10,000 write-in ballots for the new governor of New York Nelson Rockefeller who at the time was not an announced candidate. The overnor was Nixon’s most serious rival for the nomination; he had withdrawn in December of 1959, but reappeared in June with a devastating critique of the Republican domestic and foreign policies during the Eisenhower years. Rockefeller Clubs sprang up all over the country, but he had little support within the convention itself. He withdrew on the eve of the national Chicago July convention when Nixon consented to changes moderating the party’s civil rights plank and reaching a compromise on the national defense statement. (Herbert Eaton, Presidential Timber, pp.507-510.) READ MORE »