Tom Ross

Tom Ross

Tom Ross: Choosing presidential nominee was vastly different in 1960


Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or

Find more columns by Tom here.

— As the Democratic National Convention got under way Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C., it could not be depended upon for any more drama and political intrigue than the Republicans generated last week in Tampa. Which didn’t add up to much.

If there is drama in Charlotte, it will not come from the delegates but from protesters outside the convention hall.

As every American voter knows by now, the conventions, once a mad flurry of political maneuvering, have devolved into carefully orchestrated pep rallies. But there was a time when a front-running candidate from either party might arrive at the convention without the nomination fully secured.

State delegations held out for favorite sons (sorry, I’d like to add “and daughters,” but it wasn’t happening in an earlier era), and other delegates were persuaded to change their vote.

At the 1956 Democratic convention, there even were multiple ballots for the nomination for vice president, after presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson made the surprise announcement that he would leave the choice up to the convention delegates, according to historian Theodore H. White. They overwhelmingly chose Estes Kefauver over a young John F. Kennedy. How many of you recalled the name of Sen. Kefauver, of Tennessee? I thought not.

We saw a little old-timey convention drama last week in Tampa when Ron Paul backers voted for Paul instead of Mitt Romney in defiance of new party rules and promptly were stifled. Paul didn’t win a single presidential primary but still received 190 delegate votes when the roll was called Aug. 28.

When JFK arrived at the 1960 Democratic convention in Los Angeles, he still was 160 delegates short of the nomination, with a strong challenge from Sen. Stevenson. Waiting in the wings, according to White, were Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Baines Johnson, who gave away 1,000 pounds of taffy imported from Texas to delegates, and a retired Army general named James A. Holdridge, who was the candidate of the American Vegetarian Party. Before the convention began, Holdridge proclaimed the 1960 elections unconstitutional and therefore null and void.

Those details were recorded by White, a noted historian, in his book “The Making of the President 1960,” and they are emblematic of how accessible his books are.

If you recall watching the 1960 conventions, or if you’re curious about another era when presidential politics were wide open, there’s no better place to turn than to White’s “The Making of the President” series of books that cover 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972 and 1980.

White’s prose is far more lively than the typical campaign speech.

On the Republican side, White describes how presumed nominee Vice President Richard Nixon, of California, was not in as much jeopardy as JFK in 1960, but he had to deal with an aggressive last-minute move by powerful adversary Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, of New York, who had spurned Nixon’s offer of the vice presidency.

Nixon was not about to lose the nomination but ultimately was forced to accept 14 of Rockefeller’s demands for planks to be included in the party platform.

Although we currently are focused on the political conventions during the two weeks straddling August and September, “The Making of the President 1960” is best remembered for the way it chronicled the permanent changes wrought on American presidential politics by the Nixon/Kennedy debates, the first ever to be televised.

If you become wary of the speeches in Charlotte this week and disillusioned by the amount of money being funneled into political ads in seven or eight battleground states, including Colorado, you already know my advice. Track down a copy of “The Making of the President 1960.”

You won’t be disappointed.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email


rhys jones 4 years, 8 months ago

Tom, you had to be about 6 for the '60 campaign, while I was five. The main thing I remember is the schoolyard chants (and switch names as necessary): "Nixon, Nixon, He's Our Man. Kennedy belongs in the garbage can!!" I was raised Republican. The chant went the other way in other circles. Ricky Anderson was a bully who could get a whole circle to change affiliations immediately, just upon appearance. I think HE swung that election.

The Reps missed their only shot at a real candidate this year by losing Ron Paul.


Brian Kotowski 4 years, 8 months ago

An open letter to Ron Paul published during his last presidential run, to which the good doctor has never replied:

Dear Congressman Paul:

Your Presidential campaign has drawn the enthusiastic support of an imposing collection of Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, Holocaust Deniers, 9/11 “Truthers” and other paranoid and discredited conspiracists.

Do you welcome- or repudiate – the support of such factions?

More specifically, your columns have been featured for several years in the American Free Press –a publication of the nation’s leading Holocaust Denier and anti-Semitic agitator, Willis Carto. His book club even recommends works that glorify the Nazi SS, and glowingly describe the “comforts and amenities” provided for inmates of Auschwitz.

Have your columns appeared in the American Free Press with your knowledge and approval?

As a Presidential candidate, will you now disassociate yourself, clearly and publicly, from the poisonous propaganda promoted in such publications?

As a guest on my syndicated radio show, you answered my questions directly and fearlessly.

Will you now answer these pressing questions, and eliminate all associations between your campaign and some of the most loathsome fringe groups in American society?

Along with my listeners (and many of your own supporters), I eagerly await your response.

Respectfully, Michael Medved


Brian Kotowski 4 years, 8 months ago

Actually, there was some drama at last night's Dem convention, when the delegates booed the inclusion of the words "God-given" in their platform. As a heathen, I don't have a dog in that fight, but I thought it was reasonably dramatic and tremendously amusing.

I agree that the conventions have "devolved" into scripted and staged productions, but the electoral process is not without drama. One can argue that Perot gave us Clinton in 1992, and Nader gave us W in 2000. Fairly dramatic outcomes, I think.


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