On This Day

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Abbie Rowe/National Parks Service
The first photograph of President John F. Kennedy at his desk in the Oval Office.

On This Day: Kennedy Defeats Nixon in Presidential Election

November 08, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Nov. 8, 1960, John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon in one of the closest and most contentious presidential elections in American history.

The Election of 1960

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John F. Kennedy, the junior senator from Massachusetts, defeated Vice President Richard M. Nixon by just 0.1 percent in the popular vote, and the results of the electoral vote were still uncertain on Tuesday night.

The New York Times called the election for Kennedy before midnight on Tuesday, one of the first papers to call the election. In its Thursday edition, after much of Tuesday night’s confusion had settled, the Times recounted, “Just about midnight a slow process of attrition set in that whittled away at his ‘sure’ win until, in the dramatic hours of the early morning, it was clear that this was the closest election in generations.”

The results in numerous states were still uncertain on Wednesday morning (including California, which Senator Kennedy led, but lost after the counting of absentee ballots), but it was clear that Senator Kennedy had won the requisite electoral votes, largely thanks to narrow victories in Illinois and Texas. Sixteen states would be decided by just 2.5 percent or less (by comparison, only seven states were this close in the similarly contentious 2000 election), 13 of which were won by Senator Kennedy.

Many Republicans alleged that Senator Kennedy had won Illinois, Texas and other states fraudulently. Cook County, Illinois, controlled by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, a Kennedy supporter, was notorious for voter fraud and there were accounts that dead people had been counted as voters. Texas, the home of Senator Kennedy’s running mate, Lyndon Johnson, had counties with more votes than registered voters.

Vice President Nixon declared that he did not want to dispute the results, though his supporters pursue recounts or legal actions in 11 states. Courts did not allow for widespread recounts in Illinois and Texas, and there was never any danger of Senator Kennedy losing the presidency. Many historians agree that there was extensive voter fraud in Cook County, though it is uncertain if it changed the results. In Texas, where Senator Kennedy won by a larger margin, it is unlikely that any voter fraud made a difference.
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