Kennedy-McCormack Debate


After Nixon and Kennedy, there was Kennedy and McCormack fighting over John Kennedy’s old senate seat. Less than a month after turning 30 in 1962, Edward Moore Kennedy declared his candidacy for the remaining two years of his brother’s Senate term. He entered the race with a tailwind of family money and political prominence. Nevertheless, Edward J. McCormack Jr., the state’s attorney general and a nephew of John W. McCormack, then speaker of the United States House of Representatives, also decided to go after the seat.

The debate was a bitter fight. McCormack tried to stir up Kennedy, who was known for his anger. McCormack ridiculed Kennedy for his lack of qualifications. “The office of United States senator should be merited, and not inherited,” the speaker of the house’s nephew said. Kennedy, shaky at times, stuck to his rehearsed answers and resisted McCormack’s bait. His voice cracking, he said in closing, “We should not have any talk about personalities or families.”

In one of the most entertaining moments in debating’s history, McCormack jabbed his finger in the air toward Kennedy (above), noting if his opponent’s name were Edward Moore, his candidacy “would be a joke.” Over wild applause, he continued, “But nobody’s laughing because his name is not Edward Moore. It’s Edward Moore Kennedy.” Veins bulging, Kennedy managed to contain his rage. When the debate ended, he walked off the stage without shaking McCormack’s hand and muttered, “I’d like to get that guy and punch him in the nose!”

But the Kennedys had ushered in an era of celebrity politics, which trumped qualifications in this case. Mr. Kennedy won the primary by a two-to-one ratio, then went on to easy victory in November against the Republican candidate, George Cabot Lodge, a member of an old-line Boston family that had clashed politically with the Kennedys through the years. Lodge’s great-grandfather had defeated Honey Fitz (JFK’s maternal grandfather) for the Senate and his father had lost the same seat to JFK.

–from the New York Times.

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