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Reese Schonfeld Headshot

What Do Obama/Clinton, Kennedy/Johnson and Nixon/Rockefeller Have in Common?

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It was forty-eight years ago in West Virginia that John Kennedy won the state primary and proved that a Catholic could carry an overwhelmingly Protestant state. That victory assured him of a huge lead over Lyndon Johnson going into the Democratic Convention, but no one suggested that Johnson withdraw from the race.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only one still alive who covered the 1960 Conventions.

There was much ugliness at the Democratic Convention. Delegates with Masonic pins in their lapels walked up and down aisles buttonholing other delegates, saying that they and most Americans would never vote for a Catholic. They congratulated governors and senators who stood as favorite sons holding off a Kennedy majority. The governors and senators seemed distressed, but they held firm and no one suggested that Johnson withdraw from the race.

Those were the days when political bosses still controlled state delegations and the key figure was Dave Lawrence who ran the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania. Lawrence, a Catholic himself, was concerned that putting a Catholic at the head of the ticket would drag the Democratic Party to defeat in Pennsylvania. Most of my time was spent waiting fro Lawrence to make a decision. When he finally announced for Kennedy the race seemed over, but no one suggested that Johnson withdraw from the race.

At the last moment, the day before the floor vote, Johnson challenged Kennedy to a head-to-head debate with the delegates in attendance and full television coverage. Kennedy agreed and the two men stood at podia side by side, challenging each other issue by issue. We in the press decided that Kennedy had more than held his own, but no one suggested that Johnson withdraw from the race.

The next day the delegates voted. As I recall it, I was on the floor with a mike in the midst of the Wyoming delegation as it cast the votes that put Kennedy over the top. The role call was alphabetical, so it took the last state in the union to give Kennedy the nomination. The next day JFK named Lyndon Johnson as his vice-presidential running mate and it was Johnson who would carry Texas for the Democrats and win the presidency for JFK.

I can't understand why the media is working so hard to brand Hillary a loser and drum her out of what is likely to be a fair fight on the Convention floor.

Some say it's divisive to go to a convention without the nominee already chosen. I remember the 1960 Republican Convention. Nelson Rockefeller competed against Richard Nixon for the nomination and when saw that he didn't have the votes he invited Nixon to his home and worked out the infamous "Treaty of Fifth Avenue." In it, Rockefeller agreed to support Nixon if Nixon accepted a civil rights platform plank that promised "aggressive action to remove the remaining vestiges of segregation or discrimination in all areas of national life."

The compromise won Nixon the nomination, but outraged conservatives. Barry Goldwater charged that Nixon had "surrendered" to Rockefeller and called it a "Munich" for the GOP. Republican southerners were outraged; when the Convention Chairman gaveled Nixon's "unanimous" victory, the Louisiana delegation stood-up, booed and walked out of the hall. In the General Election, Nixon carried only Florida and the border-states in the once solid south.

Nixon lost, Kennedy won. Sometimes it takes a good fight to clear the air and I applaud Hillary for sticking to her guns.

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