Unlike earlier campaign, the 1960 presidential campaign featured a politically innovative and highly
influential series of televised debates in the contest between the Republicans and the Democrats. Debates
that could be viewed by such a wide audience had never before been part of the presidential campaigns, and
through these debates, the far-reaching medium of television showed how effective it could be in influencing
the outcome of an election.
The two parties to face off in the election selected very different candidates. John Kennedy, a young
senator from Massachusetts without much experience and recognition in national politics, established an
early lead among democratic hopefuls, and was nominated on the first ballot at the Los Angeles convention
to be representative of the Democratic party in the presidential elections. The older and more experienced
Richard Nixon, then serving as vice president of the United States under Eisenhower, received the
nomination of the Republican party. Both Nixon and Kennedy campaigned vigorously throughout the
country and then took the unprecedented step of appearing in face-to-face debates on television.
Experts in the politics of presidential elections contend that the debates were a pivotal force in the
elections. In front of a viewership of more than 100 million citizens, Kennedy masterfully overcame
Nixon’s advantage as the better-known and more experienced candidate and reversed the public perception
of him as too inexperienced and immature for presidency. In an election that was extremely close, it was
perhaps these debates that brought victory to Kennedy.