Photograph of John F. Kennedy with black text underneath. White text on black background.
Pictorial Productions Inc.
Tuckahoe, New York
With tensions between the USSR and America only escalating, the election of 1960 had broad implications for the shape and direction of the Cold War. The election pitted a young, charismatic leader from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy, against Richard Nixon, the former vice president.
The Nixon-Kennedy debates were the first presidential debates to ever be broadcast on television. Although Kennedy was initially perceived by voters as too immature for the White House because of his age, in the debates he appeared sharp and focused. Nixon, alternatively, had just recovered from a knee injury while in a nearby hospital. Wearing a grey suit in the first debate, Nixon blended into the grey studio backdrop. Kennedy stared directly into the cameras, while Nixon, in traditional debate fashion, looked at Kennedy when he answered the moderators' questions or delivered his counter-arguments.
Although Nixon faired better in the last two debates, historians generally agree that Kennedy's performance in the first debate substantively shaped the outcome of the election. It was close. JFK won the popular vote by a mere 118,000 votes. Kennedy's strongholds in industrial and urban areas helped him carry the necessary electoral college votes to victory.