1960 Kennedy VS. Nixon



Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate
"Religion," Kennedy, 1960

WOMAN: You would be divided between two loyalties, to your church and your state, if you were to be elected President?

KENNEDY: The question is whether I think that, if I were elected President, I would be divided between two loyalties: my church and my state.

Let me just say that I would not. I have sworn to uphold the Constitution, in the fourteen years I've been in Congress, in the years I was in the service. The Constitution provides in the First Amendment that Congress shall make no laws abridging the freedom of religion. I must say I believe in it; I think it's the only way that this country can go ahead. Many countries do not believe in it. Many countries have unity between church and state - I would be completely opposed to it. And I say that whether I'm elected President, or whether I continue as a Senator, or whether I'm a citizen. That is my view based on a long experience.

So in answer to your question, I would fulfill my oath of office, as I have done for fourteen years in the Congress. There is no article of my faith that would in any way inhibit - I think it encourages - the meeting of my oath of office. And whether you vote for me or not because of my competence to be President, I am sure that no one believes that I'd be a candidate for the Presidency if I didn't think I could meet my oath of office.

Secondly, Article 6 of the Constitution says there shall be no religious test for office. That's what was written in the Constitution: Jefferson, Washington, and all the rest. They said every American will have an opportunity. Now you cannot tell me that the day I was born it was said I could never run for President because I wouldn't meet my oath of office. I would not have come here if I didn't feel that I was going to get the complete opportunity to run for office as a fellow American in this state. I would not run for it if in any way I didn't feel that I could do the job.

I come here today saying that I think that this is an issue...

(Inaudible, crowd cheering and applause)


"Religion," Citizens for Kennedy-Johnson, 1960

Maker: Jack Denove

From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012.
www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1960/religion (accessed June 21, 2024).


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1960 Kennedy Nixon Results

In 1960, America was enjoying a period of relative prosperity. With the exception of the stirrings of the modern civil rights movement, domestic turbulence was low, and the primary foreign threat seemed to be the intensifying Cold War. Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba in 1959, and installed a Communist regime just ninety miles off the coast of Florida. In May 1960, an American U-2 spy plane was shot down inside the Soviet Union, further intensifying tensions between the superpowers. The Republican nominee, Vice President Richard Nixon, was enjoying a growing reputation for his foreign policy skills after his televised "kitchen debate" with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1959. The Democratic nominee, charismatic Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy, was attempting to become the first Catholic president and, at age 43, the youngest man ever elected to the office. Nixon argued that he had the maturity and experience to deal with the Communists, while Kennedy attempted to turn his youth into an advantage, proclaiming in his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, "We stand today on the edge of a new frontier."

John F. Kennedy for president
Lyndon Johnson for vice president

"Kennedy: Leadership for the ’60s"

The Kennedy campaign produced nearly 200 commercials, which varied widely in subject and style. The variety was partly caused by disorganization within the media campaign, which was being handled by two competing agencies. Several Kennedy spots showcased his spontaneous speaking abilities, using excerpts from rallies, speeches, and debates. And there were a variety of endorsement ads: Jackie Kennedy’s Spanish-language ad was aimed at Hispanic voters, and Harry Belafonte rallied the support of African American voters who, the campaign feared, might turn away from Kennedy because of his Catholic faith.

More than the ads, two key television events gave Kennedy his winning margin in 1960. The first was an impassioned speech to the Houston Ministerial Association in which he responded to concerns that Catholicism was incompatible with the secular office of president. In a confrontational arena, Kennedy’s manner was confident and assured as he proclaimed his allegiance to the separation of church and state and turned the issue into a question not of religion but of religious tolerance. Originally aired live throughout Texas, the Houston speech was edited into a half-hour commercial that was broadcast frequently throughout the campaign.

The second and more important event was the Kennedy-Nixon debate on September 26, the first of four televised general-election presidential debates. Kennedy appeared tanned, confident, and vigorous. Nixon, wearing no makeup and a light-colored suit that blended into the background, looked exhausted and pale, and sweated profusely. An estimated 75 million viewers tuned in to watch. The debate was also broadcast on radio to an audience of approximately fifteen million. Testifying to television’s visual impact, Kennedy emerged as the clear winner even though most radio listeners felt that Nixon had won.

Richard Nixon for president
Henry Cabot Lodge for vice president

"Nixon-Lodge: They Understand What Peace Demands"

In 1960, Nixon’s campaign instituted a procedure that became standard in subsequent Republican campaigns. Rather than hire an advertising agency, Nixon formed an ad hoc group and named it Campaign Associates. The group was headed by Carroll Newton, who had played a key role in both Eisenhower campaigns, and Ted Rogers, producer of the 1952 "Checkers" telecast (in which Nixon saved his vice-presidential nomination by answering corruption charges with an emotional speech made during a paid half-hour broadcast). This organizational structure gave Nixon direct control over his advertising, and allowed the group to recruit volunteers from several agencies.

Nixon used his 1960 commercials as a sort of rehearsal for the job. In a formal office setting, he spoke directly to the camera, giving detailed, forceful answers to questions posed by an offscreen speaker, and presenting himself as a tough, experienced leader able to stand up to the Communists. Polls showed that voters saw Nixon as stronger than Kennedy on foreign policy by a two-to-one margin, and saw Kennedy as stronger on domestic policy by the same ratio. Thus Nixon turned every question into a Cold War issue. About civil rights, he said, "We cannot compete with Communism without the full participation of all our citizens."

The message implicit in these ads was that while Nixon may not have been as charismatic or even as likable as Kennedy, he was a seasoned, mature leader ready to stand up to Khrushchev. Nixon’s ads also played to his foreign-policy strength by frequently including his running mate, former United Nations ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge.

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