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Warming Up an Audience, 1960 Campaign Style

President Kennedy was renowned for some extraordinary oratorical high points, his inaugural address being top of the list. Senator Kennedy, though, wasn’t. Public speaking of a type that would inspire and motivate was a skill he had to learn, and it was something he worked hard at during the course of the 1960 campaign. With Ted Sorensen’s help, of course.

Presidential campaigns involve a punishing schedule, even before the days of the 24-hour news cycle. During Kennedy’s 1960 campaign, a typical day for the candidate began at 5:30am and ended at 1:30am the following morning. And that went on for months at a time.

During Kennedy’s 1960 campaign, a typical day began at 5:30am and ended at 1:30am the following morning.

With hundreds or even thousands of appearances of a presidential campaign, it’s a practical necessity that the candidate has a stump speech or two to fall back on that can be delivered in a state of exhaustion and yet will still reliably get a good reaction from the crowd. It will evolve and be refined, but having that routine is an important crutch for an exhausted candidate.

One of the openings Kennedy kept up his sleeve proved a great way to warm up audiences at campaign stops:

Actually, I am not campaigning for votes here in Wisconsin. The Vice President [Nixon] and I are here on a mission for the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare to test cranberries. Well, we have both eaten them, and I feel fine. But if we both pass away, I feel I shall have performed a great public service by taking the Vice President with me.”1

It was a cheap shot, but an effective one. And having won them over with that, he could then get down to business of winning their votes.

Notes:

1. Quoted in Thomas Reeves, A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy (New York: Free Press, 1991) p.155.