Friday, July 12, 2013


July 12, 1960


Los Angeles, California (JFK+50) Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, both candidates for the Democratic Presidential Nomination of 1960, faced each other 53 years ago today in a nationally televised debate at the Democratic National Convention here in Los Angeles.

Although a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, LBJ did not enter the primaries choosing instead to continue his day in day out work as Senate Majority Leader.

At one point during the campaign, Senator Johnson was quoted as saying...

"I don't think I'm absolutely qualified to be president, but when I look at the other boys, when I look at Jack and Symington and Adlai, I think I'm better qualified...I'm a doer, I've passed the bills, I've minded the store."

With a decisive lead going into the convention, JFK graciously offered to meet with any state delegations which invited him.  LBJ seized on the opportunity to propose a debate between himself and Senator Kennedy to be held before the Massachusetts and Texas delegations.

The debate was held on July 12, 1960 in the ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel between 3 and 4 o'clock in the afternoon Pacific time.

Since there was no moderator, LBJ took the podium first to introduce Senator Kennedy.  LBJ said that the young senator from Massachusetts was "a man of...high character...with great intellect."

Senator Kennedy spoke for 10 minutes.  He commented on the fact that the Massachusetts delegation was vastly outnumbered by the Texas delegates and he was glad that were not going to have a vote following the debate.

LBJ once again took the podium, this time for 20 minutes.

Senator Johnson was critical of "some men who would be president" for their absenteeism in the Senate, particularly during the civil rights bill debate.

When JFK concluded the debate, he cleverly said...

"Since Senator Johnson was not specific, I assume he was talking about some of the other candidates, and not about me."

JFK went on to praise LBJ's "wonderful record in answering those quorum calls" and added...

"I am strongly in support of Senator Johnson for majority leader and I am confident that in that position we are all going to be able to work together."

JFK won the 1960 Democratic nomination for President of the United States on the day following the debate, July 13, 1960.  

The final tally of the delegates was...

Johnson 409
Symington 86
Stevenson 43
All others 142

At  10 a.m. on July 14, 1960, JFK went to see LBJ in his hotel suite and there offered him a place on the ticket.

LBJ accepted and the rest is history.

                             JFK and LBJ
                          August 12, 1960
                        LBJ Library Photo


"Lone Star Rising:  Lyndon Johnson and His Times," by Robert Dallek, Oxford University Press, New York, 1991.