Year of Publication

2000

Paper Type

Master's Thesis

College

College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Arts in History (MA)

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. Thomas Leonard

Second Advisor

Dr. David Courtwright

Third Advisor

Dr. James Crooks

Abstract

The landmark launch of Sputnik on October 4, 1957, and the subsequent perception that the United States trailed the Soviet Union, not only in space but also in missiles, plagued the Eisenhower Administration for the rest of the decade. The Democratic Party strategy for the 1960 presidential election included using the space race, the alleged missile gap, and declining American prestige abroad to illustrate the need for new leadership in the White House. Senator John F. Kennedy, the Democratic nominee, effectively raised these issues throughout the general election to support his "New Frontier" program and won by the narrowest popular vote margin in history.

Yet, using the same themes during his tour of Florida, Kennedy failed to carry the state. An influx of Republican voters from other states, the absence of crucial Democratic voting blocs, and a considerable defection of registered Democrats contributed to Vice President Richard M. Nixon's Florida victory. Analysis of major Florida newspapers revealed that Kennedy's religion, the liberal Democratic platform, referenda on proposed amendments to the state constitution, and state office races generated more interest than the space race, despite the presence of Cape Canaveral as the primary launch facility for the U.S. space program. Kennedy's religion, civil rights, and states rights emerged as the key issues for Florida voters and compelled many Democrats to vote for Nixon as the only alternative or in protest.

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