Based on Convention notes from Los Angeles by Emmanuel de Kadt.
no deadlocks, no switches, no Southern breakaways, no second ballot. Smooth as a transcontinental express, the Kennedy machine rolled through the Democratic Party’s Convention, carrying everything (including 806 votes) before it. Its progress marked the rise and triumph of the college-cut button-down-collar business technicians in politics: the new men of power, Jack Kennedy’s “boys”, made the old professional machine men look like a crew of provincial hicks.
There was something of a self-fulfilling prophecy about the Kennedy success. While he consistently underestimated his strength, appearing hopeful and calm but never over-confident, his “team” consistently utilised the highest figures of support, to induce a feeling among delegates that whoever wanted to wave from the window when the Presidential train rolled in in November, had better climb aboard early. They did. While the processions and acclamations for “favourite sons” went on, the Kennedy professionals could be seen, moving across the floor of the Convention, smoothing the way. The headquarters of the Convention, the Biltmore Hotel, saw many a wild-cat demonstration. At one point, a mob of bigoted segregationists invaded the lobby with placards for Orval Faubus, famous for his stand at Little Rock. Their placards demanded, “A Christian In The White House”, “Faubus For President”, “States Rights vs. Communism”. At another time, two or three Nazis, with swastika armbands, distributed leaflets saying, “A vote for Stevenson is a vote for Khrushchev”. But all this was just part of the political mardi-gras.
The only two real alternatives to Kennedy were Stevenson and Lyndon Johnson, leader of the Senate and the Southern hope. Johnson remained confident until the end. With his smile and his studied friendliness, he tried to navigate his way round all the cliffs. Asked about Cuba, he said “Foreign policy is the prerogative of the President!” Pushed by the creeping crisis in Cuba, he retreated behind the Monroe Doctrine and the Caracas Agreement. He failed to find the appropriate tone for the Convention, and the South did not feel strongly enough about his allegiance to segregation to threaten to break the Party in order to let him through.
The Stevenson movement had unsuspected “grass-roots” strength, in New York and California particularly, and enclaves of liberal support around the country: but it lacked organised power. The inner contradiction of Stevenson’s position—he remained aloof, unwilling to campaign, and yet was obviously anxious to be “drafted”—made it difficult for his supporters. Finding themselves largely outside the machines, often in blatant opposition to them, they had to rely upon public demonstrations. In New York alone, more than 500,000 signed the “Draft Stevenson” petitions, and when he appeared at the Convention, the demonstrations in favour of his candidature interrupted the proceedings for twenty minutes. “Do not leave this prophet without honour in his own party. Do not reject this man”.
That was precisely what the Convention did. The Kennedy team worked tirelessly, promoting the young Senator from Massachusetts. At one stage, the candidate was so tired that he said,