TV Debate Makes JFK Superstar, Nixon a Loser

Share
Copy

"I was a Republican and it was around that time I switched over in my political thinking," said Duthie, 97, who now lives in Hartford, Conn. "I had not liked Kennedy. As most Republicans felt, I was not enamored of him. It was purely a personal thing without any thinking behind it."

But Duthie, a musician, and her husband, a bank vice president, were active in the early peace movement in the 1930s and they liked what Kennedy had to say on war and peace.

One-Third of Nation Watched Great Debate

Regardless of how audiences on radio or television had responded to the event, there was no doubt inside the Kennedy camp who had won.

Right after the debate, Kennedy's excitement over his performance was palpable, according to Sorensen.

Kennedy left the sound stage and went directly to a pay phone.

"The millionaire senator asked me if I'd got any change," he remembers. "I gave him a quarter and he dialed his father. I stepped back a few respectful paces and could see a big smile lighting up the senator's face."

The next day in a motorcade in Ohio, the so-called leapers -- women who jumped over the crowds to see the candidate -- were out in full force, according to Sorensen.

"I don't think there's been anything as important as the debate of 1960," he said. "It gave the American people a pretty good idea of what Kennedy was really like. He was a Catholic, but he didn't wear horns. He also didn't look like a priest, and that was very important to see him as he really was and not let the words, too young and inexperienced, and Catholic cloud their vision.

"It was a high moment in democracy --- a time when the American people knew more about their candidates that they had ever known before."

Another presidential debate wasn't held until 1976. Battle scarred from his 1960 performance, Nixon refused to debate again in his successful bids for the presidency in 1968 and 1972.

The first of the Nixon-Kennedy debates was one of the most watched programs in American history, drawing 66 million viewers, or more than a third of the entire population at the time of 179 million. By comparison, the 2008 debate between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama drew only 52 million viewers, although the country had swelled to 300 million.

"Television had made its entrance full-time into the political landscape," said newsman Vanocur. "Television was the dominating force."

ABC News reporter Lisa Chinn and information specialist Nicholas Tucker contributed to this report

-- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 11694525. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 11694525. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 11694525. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 11694525. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 11694525. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 11694525. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 11694525. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 11694525. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 11694525.
Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
  • |
  • 4
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...