Exactly sixty years ago, at the 1956 Democratic National Convention, the final ballot for vice president was as dramatic as any convention has witnessed. Presidential nominee Adlai E. Stevenson stunned delegates by announcing he was leaving his choice of a running mate up to them.
Two candidates quickly announced. Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, who had run for president twice before, and the charismatic freshman Sen. John F. Kennedy. Both sent family members and operatives into the crowd to woo delegates.
Kefauver, with much greater name recognition, led Kennedy on the first ballot, but finished the roll call more than 200 delegates short of the 686 he needed.
On the second ballot, the 39-year-old Kennedy pulled ahead with 648 votes. A switch in Kennedy’s direction by the Kentucky delegation at the end of the roll call moved him within 38 votes of victory.
But, as is often the case in party politics, the tenor of the contest changed quickly when Tennessee’s other senator, Albert Gore, who was running third, withdrew in favor of the 53-year old Kefauver. With bedlam on the floor and states waving their standards for recognition, JFK lost his momentum and his numbers dropped with it.
After Kefauver went over the top, Kennedy took to the stage and motioned to have his nomination made by acclamation. It would be the only election JFK would ever lose, but perhaps it was for the best when the Stevenson/Kefauver ticket went down to a huge defeat in November.
The attention Kennedy received in 1956 would help lead to his nomination for president four years later.
This was also the year NBC’s David Brinkley and Chet Huntley would became the most famous news team in TV history.
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