Conventions in Transition, 1960-1968

related video
Dukakis describes attending the 1960 DNC as a recent law school graduate
John F. Kennedy Speech to the Houston Ministerial Association, 1960.

Presidential primaries did not exist until the 20th century, and they did not have a major impact on conventions until many years later. In 1960, John F. Kennedy won several Democratic primaries, but Lyndon Baines Johnson remained the favorite of the party establishment. Kennedy represented a new generation of leaders that emerged in the 1960’s, and also had to overcome questions about his Catholic religion.  However, Johnson boasted about his unparalleled accomplishments from his time in Congress.  The Democratic convention in Los Angeles in 1960 would become the battleground between party elders and popular sentiment. Riding the momentum that he had harnessed through his primary victories, Kennedy was chosen to be the Democratic nominee in spite of the party elite’s concerns. However, in a move that could be construed as a compromise when placed against the historical context of the nominating process, Kennedy offered Johnson a spot as his running mate, although there is a debate that exists regarding the sincerity of Kennedy’s offer.

1960 represented a turning point in convention history. No longer could party elites choose the nominees without the consent of the people. For the remainder of the 1960s, conventions tried to balance the declining influence of party leaders and the growing influence of the people. This still resulted in conventions that were full of spectacle and intrigue. Often, the party’s nominee was relatively unknown heading into the convention, adding a sense of drama and excitement to the affair.