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  Kennedy-Johnson Primary Debate
TitleKennedy-Johnson Primary Debate
Start Date/TimeJuly 12, 1960 05:00pm
End Date/TimeJuly 12, 1960 06:00pm
Last ModifiedChronicler - April 20, 2008 06:55pm
DescriptionThe second Democratic primary debate of 1960, held during the Democratic National Convention, played a major role in healing the deep divisions generated during the spring primaries. Like the JFK-HHH debate, it was carried on nationwide television.

At the end of the primary season, JFK had collected most of the delegates he needed to win the nomination. The only challenger who had a reasonable chance to stop him was Sen. Lyndon Johnson. To accomplish this goal, LBJ challenged JFK to a debate.

The debate was offered by LBJ after JFK agreed to meet with any state delegations who invited him.

Debate Quick Facts
When: 3:00-4:00 p.m. (Pacific), 7/12/1960
Where: Biltmore Hotel ballroom, Los Angeles CA
Moderator: none
Estimated audience: undetermined
Topic: Domestic policy
Format: irregular

Setting: LBJ and JFK debated before the Massachusetts and Texas delegations to the Democratic National Convention.

LBJ introduced JFK as "a man of unusually high character ... with great intellect... and ... a dedicated and devoted public citizen."

JFK opened the debate with a 10-minute speech. He stated that not all Texans would agree with his civil rights policy and re-stated his backing for agricultural price supports.

LBJ began his 20-minute opening speech by stating that he agreed with everything that JFK had just said. He believed that he would be nominated and said that the Democratic Party should not "veto a man or choose a man" based on religion or the home of the candidate. LBJ mentioned that he had always supported bills for rural Americans, such as power and rural telephone needs (on both of which JFK had a mixed record).

LBJ entered the debate with a list of challenges to JFK. He criticized JFK for his absenteeism during the months of the primary campaign and for his votes on agricultural and natural resource bills. LBJ was particularly unhappy that JFK missed the six-day, around-the-clock debate on the Senate floor on the civil rights bill. While LBJ met each of the 50 quorum calls and 45 roll calls during the debate, JFK missed 34 of the roll call votes.

LBJ mentioned that West Virginia had shown that a Protestant state could vote for a Catholic candidate. "What we want is equal proof that a Catholic state will go for a Protestant, and I have not the slightest doubt but what this convention tomorrow is going to prove it."

LBJ realized, however, that the debate had the potential of bitterly dividing the party. He tried to set forth his case in a non-divisive way. Both candidates agreed to campaign vigorously for the eventual Democratic nominee.

JFK closed the debate with a five-minute closing statement. He praised LBJ for being faithful during the civil rights debate and said he was glad that the issues debated then would not be voted upon at the convention.

[NYT 7/13/1960]

The "winner" of the debate was Sen. Kennedy, who was nominated for President. Johnson gained the support of most uncommitted Southern delegates, and he won almost all former slave states. Kennedy undermined the movement to draft Adlai Stevenson, though half of his California delegates abandoned him. JFK was nominated on the first ballot with 53% of the delegate votes.

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