Becoming JFK: A Profile in Communication

By Vito N. Silvestri | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
The Presidential Campaign, Part I:
Squaring Off on the Religion Issue

The 1960 presidential campaign was unique. Presidential debates were televised for the first time, a candidate's religion was at issue, and the two candidates operated highly distinctive political campaigns.

Kennedy's approach was to run hard from the very beginning to election day, to cover as much territory and meet as many voters as possible. His style was as collaborative as it had been since he entered public office. He consulted with others, studied as much information as he could, and then made a decision. He and his staff planned and implemented operations with local and state political organizations and connected them with their own volunteer network throughout the nation. They wanted to avoid the mistake Stevenson made in 1956, when his staff scheduled him independently without consulting with state and local party leaders. Ken O'Donnell toured the country in August and developed a tight schedule from September through election day allowing Kennedy only two free days. Whenever the candidate planned more than two days in an area, the local politicians were to develop his itinerary. 1 It was a formula that worked. Larry O'Brien coordinated the campaign, working from national Democratic Party headquarters in Washington. He and Byron White enlisted a network of forty-three coordinators to arbitrate disputes between volunteers and Democratic political organizations to ensure that the national campaign effort would function cohesively. 2

Nixon, in direct contrast, operated his campaign largely alone. Although he had help from Republican advisory committees and Republican headquarters, he consulted less and less with them as the campaign developed. Determined to be his own man, and to separate himself from Eisenhower, Nixon alone determined his strategy. 3 Though he received creative ideas for the use of television from his advisors, as well as thematic visions suggested to him by Republican leaders, he suspended

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