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  Second Kennedy-Nixon Debate
TitleSecond Kennedy-Nixon Debate
Start Date/TimeOctober 07, 1960 06:30pm
End Date/TimeOctober 07, 1960 07:30pm
Last ModifiedChronicler - April 22, 2008 09:52pm
Sen. Kennedy was widely viewed as the winner of the first debate, particularly among those who viewed it on television. Polls in the following week showed that Kennedy's support rose to the same level as Nixon's. The second Kennedy-Nixon debate was Nixon's chance to redeem himself.

In the interim, Nixon's campaign discussed how to improve his performance. Analysts believed that Kennedy did a better job setting forth the "big picture" while Nixon did better with the details. Kennedy, of course, was also considered the winner of the non-verbal part of the debate. In order to improve his non-verbal standing, Nixon chose a different make-up assistant (JFK didn't use makeup for the debates).

Quick Facts
When: 7:30-8:30 p.m. (EST), 10/7/1960
Where: WRC-TV (NBC affiliate's Studio A, Massachusetts and Nebraska Avenues, Washington DC); carried by ABC, NBC, and CBS television and MBS radio
Moderator: Frank McGee (NBC); panel: Alvin Spivak (UPI), Harold Levy (Newsday), Edward P. Morgan (ABC), and Paul Niven (CBS)
Number of viewers/listeners: 61,900,000
Topics: Foreign policy, civil rights

Transcript: [Link]

Format: Eight-minute opening statements, each questioned in turn with optional rebuttal; three-minute closing.

Setting: Nixon's team complained that the old set was "cold and stark." NBC, the host of the second debate, called in representatives from the two campaigns beforehand to show them the "warm" stage they had prepared using "brown earth tones." The dais was shaped "like a large boomerang," according to the New York Times. Each candidate had a stool behind a lecturn on either side of Frank McGee, the moderator. Behind the candidates were two US flags. During the debate, the news cameras shifted from the speaking candidate to the listening candidate for "reaction shots." [10/7/1960]

Kennedy arrived at the studio first (6:28) and had two complaints. First, the temperature in the room was just 64 degrees, which was intended to lessen Nixon's perspiration. JFK also found that the lighting on the two lecturns was different. He complained about these issues. The staff moved the thermostat to 70 degrees and changed the lighting as JFK requested.

Nixon arrived second (6:52). The New York Times recorded that this time "the vice President wore what was described as 'a mild amount of make-up' " in comparison to the "pancake" make-up he wore in the first debate. [NYT 10/8/1960]

Kennedy wore a black suit. Nixon wore a gray suit and a blue shirt. After Kennedy arrived in the studio, he remembered that the studio asked the candidates to wear blue shirts for the black-and-white television broadcast. He sent word to have a blue shirt sent and changed before the debate began.

One of the major issues in the debate was whether to defend two small islands off the Chinese mainland named Quemoy and Matsu. Ike had not been clear about whether or not the USA should assist Nationalist China (Formosa) in defending the islands. JFK maintained that the islands were too close to the mainland and that it would be preferable strategically to withdraw from them. Furthermore, he believed that Ike's indecisiveness would likely result in a Communist attack. Nixon retorted that JFK was using "the same kind of woolly thinking that led to disaster in Korea." He argued that giving any ground from Nationalist China would open the door to an attack on Taiwan itself.

The second major issue in the debate was civil rights. JFK and RMN held similar positions on the issue. Nixon charged that JFK's running mate, Lyndon Johnson, had a long history of opposing civil rights measures and still opposed them at the time of the debate even though they were written into the Democratic platform. JFK was not able to defend LBJ but did point out that he felt Ike did not have a vigorous civil rights policy as far as enforcement of the Brown decision.

The U-2 flight of Francis G. Powers was addressed. JFK felt that if Ike had apologized quickly, the Soviets would not have cancelled a planned summit in Paris in the spring. He pointed out that Ike apologized after a similar flight over the Soviet Union earlier. Nixon said there was some evidence that Khrushchev wanted to cancel the summit before the U-2 incident and that the USA needed to continue such flights to collect information to defend the US from surprise attacks rather than allowing an intelligence gap to emerge. [NYT 10/8/1960]

Analysts agreed that the second debate was a draw, possibly with a slight edge for Nixon. Although Nixon's non-verbal performance was a major improvement over the first debate, Kennedy retained his edge. While both appeared more at ease than in the first debate, JFK still won the non-verbal part of the debate. A common complaint was that Nixon seemed to stare at the camera while JFK changed his focus of attention from the questioners to the camera and to Nixon while he spoke.

Nixon's supporters were more energized by the second debate than the first. James Reston wrote in the New York Times "He was more composed this time, and much more political in his answers." Nixon followed JFK's performance in the first debate, choosing not to smile while responding to the questions. [NYT 10/8/1960]

Speaking of Kennedy, Reston said he "rested his case on the proposition that this is a time for innovation in both foreign and domestic policy. To go on as we now are, he argued, would produce stagnation abroad and a steady deterioration of America's position in the world." The JFK team agreed that Nixon improved his performance, but "the Vice President had no way to go but up" according to a JFK staff member. [NYT 10/8/1960]

First Debate: 9/26/1960, produced by CBS

Third Debate: 10/13/1960, produced by ABC

Fourth Debate: 10/21/1960, produced by ABC

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