As he thought back over his loss to Senator Estes Kefauver to be Adelia Stevenson’s running mate in 1956, Jack Kennedy revised his goals for the next step in his political career. Following the convention, Kennedy was told the position of vice-president would easily be his in 1960; however, Jack’s sites were now set at a higher level and he responded, “I’m not running for the vice-presidency anymore. I’m running for the presidency.” Thus, after conferring with Papa Joe and numerous advisers in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy announced on January 2, 1960 he was a candidate for the office of President of the United States.
As the young Democratic stallion enters the political horse race, he immediately encountered three hurdles he had to clear prior to even having a chance to run for the roses: 1) he’s young; 2) he’s a Catholic and 3) Hubert Humphrey has the same mindset regarding the Oval Office.
A senator from Minnesota, Humphrey believes he has a better chance of winning the state primary in neighboring Wisconsin than does this youngster from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. What Humphrey was either unaware of, or failed to take into consideration, was the size of the Kennedy family’s determination to win. Before long, the Kennedy Express rolled into Wisconsin with a new twist on Boston’s tea parties.
Upon arrival, mother Rose, wife Jackie and Jack’s sisters reenact the house parties and teas which played a critical part in helping Jack win his first elections in Massachusetts. Jackie also took to the microphone in local supermarkets to enlighten shoppers in the area of the benefits to be derived by voting for Jack in the Democratic primary. The primary results saw Jack walk away with one of the largest victories Wisconsin had ever witnessed. Humphrey was forced to return to Minnesota to fight another day.
When the Kennedy Express arrived in West Virginia, the state had virtually a 100% Protestant population. The idea of a Catholic traveling to West Virginia to campaign, let alone while entertaining aspirations of winning the state, probably compared to something out of a science fiction novel. One thing was for sure; if Kennedy could win over the people of West Virginia, he should have a relatively easy time anywhere else he campaigned. While there, Jack got down to the nitty-gritty – literally. With mining a large portion of the state’s economy, Jack saw poverty up close as he visited mining ghost towns and was lowered into a mine shaft. Ever the charmer, Kennedy won over the people of West Virginia. The primary went to Kennedy and Humphrey returned to Minnesota where he called it quits.
In July, all eyes were on Los Angeles, California for the Democratic National Convention. Four men headed for the convention as visions of the White House danced in their heads – Adlai Stevenson, Stuart Symington, Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy. Though four enter as contenders, only one will leave as the chosen candidate for president.
July 11, 1960, the opening bell rings at the convention. Throughout the electrified crowd are posters displaying Kennedy’s shining smile and held aloft by excited delegates. Needed are 761 votes to cinch the nomination. At the podium, Minnesota Governor Orville L. Freeman places Kennedy’s name into nomination.
Seeking to give himself a leg-up on his opponent, Johnson challenged Kennedy to a televised debate, which Kennedy accepted. The majority of those who saw the debate held to the opinion Kennedy won. Add to that, Johnson seemed unable to gain delegate support beyond the South.
As each state commits its delegates to a particular candidate, a running total is kept. When Wyoming announced all 15 of its delegates go to Kennedy, Jack’s new total was 763. Kennedy won on the first ballot with a final total of 806 committed delegates. Lyndon Johnson, at that time a senator from Texas, came in second with 409 votes. Surprising a good many, Kennedy named Johnson his running mate in an effort to win the South.
For those who in the prior century had answered the call, “Go west young man!” California was the end of their frontier traveling. On July 15, 1960, John F. Kennedy stepped onto the platform to deliver his acceptance speech. As he addresses the crowd before him, Jack encouraged the delegates to envision a new frontier. He sought to have them take an active role in society.
“[The New Frontier] sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them . . . But I tell you the New Frontier is here, whether we seek it or not. Beyond that frontier are the uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus.
“It would be easier to shrink back from that frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past, to be lulled by good intentions and high rhetoric – and those who prefer that course should not cast their votes for me, regardless of party.
“But I believe the times demand new invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be pioneers on that New Frontier. My call is to the young at heart, regardless of age – to all who respond to the Scriptural call: ‘Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed.’”