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November 22, 2013

Close election race against Nixon helped define Kennedy’s legacy

DUNCAN — Just as most Americans in their 50s and 60s know exactly where they were the day – Nov. 22, 1963 -- President John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, they also remember the charisma of Kennedy, the handsome Democratic candidate, and his performance on the first ever series of four televised debates.

Richard Nixon was the Republican opponent and while both he and Kennedy were strong, knowledgeable and capable candidates, Kennedy’s good looks, charm and style seemed to offer the Massachusetts senator a significant edge in what routinely has been called the first modern presidential election.

What people forget, however, is in spite the advantages, Kennedy was elected by the slimmest of margins.

With Lyndon Baines Johnson as his vice presidential mate, Kennedy and the Democrats polled 34,220,984 votes in 1960, outdistancing Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge, his VP choice, by just 112,827 votes. The Republican ticket collected 34,108,157 votes.

In other words, there were more than 68 million votes cast and the margin was just 112,827 votes.

There were 303 electoral votes for Kennedy-Johnson, 219 for Nixon-Lodge and 15 non-committed electors.

Oklahoma overwhelmingly voted for Nixon-Lodge, giving them 59 percent of the state vote (533,039) while Kennedy-Johnson received only 370,111 Sooner state votes.

Stephens County followed suit, though not by as wide a margin. Nixon-Lodge got 8,084 votes in 1960 or 54 percent. Kennedy-Johnson got 6,899 votes or 46 percent.

Johnson finished Kennedy’s term, then was elected to a full term as president, leaving office in January 1969. Nixon won and took office in 1969. He was re-elected, then left office in disgrace in August 1974.

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