The 1960 election produced the closest popular vote margin of the 20th century (0.17 per cent in Kennedy’s favour) although Kennedy won the Electoral College comfortably, by 309 to 219. It has been a commonplace that the charismatic John F. Kennedy gained the edge over the less prepossessing Richard Nixon through his performance in the first televised presidential debates, but this is now widely discounted. However, he undoubtedly benefited from the efficiency (and dubious tactics) of the Democratic political machine in northern cities (notably Chicago), and of his vice-presidential candidate, Lyndon Johnson, in the South, particularly in his home state of Texas. Kennedy’s Catholicism probably lost him as many votes as it gained. But his public espousal of Martin Luther King’s release from prison could well have been pivotal in garnering black votes in close-run states like New Jersey and Illinois. Finally, his campaign was more astutely structured: Nixon campaigned everywhere, Kennedy focused on ‘swing’ states.
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