John F. Kennedy photo

Press Conference of Senator John F. Kennedy, Anchorage, Alaska, Westward Hotel

September 04, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Ladies and gentlemen, I will just make a brief statement, and I will be glad to answer any questions that anyone might have. I want to thank Senator Bartlett and Senator Gruening for being here this morning.

I wanted to make a statement on registration and what progress we have made and what progress we expect to make before the registration period nationally is over. I talked this weekend to Congressman Frank Thompson, who is in charge of our registration drive across the Country. Congressman Thompson, after giving the matter all of his time for the last 2 months, states that he believes that between 10 and 20 million more voters will vote in 1960 than voted in 1956. He thinks that 10 million - and my brother shares the view - is rock bottom. The registration has gone better than we expected it would. We expect to register 800,000 new people in the State of California. We have been registering from 7,000 to 10,000 a day in Los Angeles.

QUESTION. Ten to what? I did not hear you. How many a day?

Senator KENNEDY. Seven thousand to ten thousand a day in Los Angeles.

QUESTION. Are those Democrats or both?

Senator KENNEDY. We will have to get Pierre on these figures. We will check on that.

QUESTION. What is the proportion of Democrats?

Senator KENNEDY. These are figures without regard to party. We expect to register 350,000 in New Jersey. I would like to emphasize, if I could, the importance of registration, particularly for those in most of the other States between 21 and 31 and in the State of Alaska between 19 and 31. Actually, since 1956, nearly 10 million people have entered this age group and are eligible to vote. We are anxious and I think that this is true of both parties, we are anxious that they make a special effort to be registered. They have, of course, the longest life investment in this country, and, therefore, they should be particularly anxious to participate in this election. We have begun on registration a particularly vigorous job in the State of California, and, in fact, in the whole West, on the Spanish Americans, and I think in the State of California we have set a goal of 100,000 in this group alone, and over 53,000 have already been registered.

I will be glad to turn this over to anyone who wants any of these figures that I read. This includes without a breakdown of registration, though I do think it is fair to say that the Democratic registration has been higher than that of the other party.

QUESTION. Senator, I think it is your brother, Robert, who said on occasion, as well as Congressman Thompson, that out of every 10 voters who are registered, 7 of those would probably vote Democratic. Would you give us on what basis that has been arrived at?

Senator KENNEDY. Well, of those who are unregistered, a higher percentage of them have a commitment to the Democratic Party and the philosophy of the Democratic Party.

QUESTION. More specifically, if they would go into a big city, would they feel because they were urban dwellers, they would be more inclined to the Democratic Party?

Senator KENNEDY. In the cities, of course, there is a higher percentage of Democratic supporters than Republican and a higher percentage that are unregistered, relatively. It has been our belief, based upon experience, that as we increase the registration that there are more supporters of the Democratic Party that are newly registered. We will have to wait and see if that theory bears out.

QUESTION. This figure that you mentioned of 10 million, would you think that ratio would apply, that of that 10 million, 7 million would probably vote Democratic?

Senator KENNEDY. I don't think I probably better draw that conclusion, but I would think that this would strengthen the Democratic Party. However, I would not attempt to make a breakdown.

QUESTION. If you can register this many in August, when people are all out on holidays, theoretically, wouldn't you expect to do an awful lot better in October?

Senator KENNEDY. Well, it starts to close in some States at the end of September, or the first part of October. In the State of Massachusetts, it has to be a month ago. In one ward in Baltimore, out of 1,028 people registered in one of the cities, it was 6 to 1 Democratic.

QUESTION. What was that again?

Senator KENNEDY. In one ward in Baltimore, out of 1,028 people registered, the percentage was 6 to 1 Democratic.

QUESTION. Senator, are you in favor of resumption of nuclear testing?

Senator KENNEDY. Well, not at this particular time.


Senator KENNEDY. Because I think that a continued effort should be made to - and I am not prepared to abandon that effort at this time - to secure an agreement between the Communist and the non-Communist world. In any case, I am particularly anxious that tests not be resumed that pollute the atmosphere. I think it is possible to secure an agreement on that, because it is easy to police. The difficulty, of course, is policing the underground tests. No satisfactory agreement has been reached on a method to police those tests. But it is possible to police atmospheric tests. I am hopeful that neither side will resume those tests.

QUESTION. Senator, would you say, sir, that the bigger the vote in November the better it is for you, for the Democratic Party? That is, the bigger the turnout?

Senator KENNEDY. We used to say in Massachusetts when there were over 2 million votes, this was 1952, that we were going to secure 3 out of 5 of every one over 2 million. But then it turned out there was the biggest vote in history and President Eisenhower swept the State. So I am never completely convinced of that theory. But I do have hopes that that theory bears this year. But I would say generally I do agree with the theory that the bigger the vote, the better the prospects for the Democrats.

QUESTION. You would think that so this year, sir?

Senator KENNEDY. I would judge that, but there have been notorious exceptions to that.

QUESTION. I read in the paper when we got out here last night, and I forget who the story was written by, that this registration drive had been so successful that you or the Democratic Party was going to take $1 million which had been earmarked for radio and TV campaigns and put this into the registration drive. Is this correct?

Senator KENNEDY. We did put an initial sum into it, and they are going to make an additional effort. I don't know about the figures. But we are going to put some of our money that had been for other purposes, into the registration drive.

QUESTION. Do you believe without an arms agreement that nuclear holocaust is imminent in 15 years?

Senator KENNEDY. No, but I do think an arms agreement would be desirable. However, I don't think we can take the conclusion that if we don't get the agreement we will have a nuclear war. But I do think it increases the prospects, but not enough for me to be convinced of it. I think it would be so mutually destructive that even if we do not get an agreement and even though other countries begin to possess the atomic capacity which now appears quite possible, I am still hopeful we can avoid nuclear holocaust.

QUESTION. Do you think this contradicts the pollster figure that 6 percent of the voters are undecided, this registration figure?

Senator KENNEDY. My judgment would be that it is higher than 6 percent.

QUESTION. You predicted a close election. Is it your view that a successful registration drive would put you over the top?

Senator KENNEDY. No, but I think it is useful from the public interest point of view to increase the registration and the turnout. I do think it would be helpful to the Democratic Party, but in the final analysis I think that registration is an element of success, but I think in the final analysis they will make it an independent judgment, everyone who is registered, on who would be the best candidate and the best party. So it is an element of success but not the key to success.

QUESTION. What kind of reports did you get from the leaders, (1) in California; (2) in Alaska, as to your own prospects for those electoral votes?

Senator KENNEDY. Well, we have a hopeful prognosis in Alaska, and we got - well, in California they felt it would be a close, hard fight.

QUESTION. Senator, you said that on the basis of past experience, you feel that a heavier registration would tend to favor the Democratic Party.

Senator KENNEDY. Yes, but I would not carry it to the extreme.

QUESTION. Have you had any samplings taken elsewhere than Massachusetts and Baltimore? That ward is terribly heavy Democratic anyway. They have a Democratic Congressman up there. Have you taken any in the suburbs where you hope to do better this year?

Senator KENNEDY. No, we will have additional information as time goes on, but I have not enough to give you anything. In the beginning, we have not done as much registration in the suburbs and towns as we hoped to do. Perhaps in the next 2 or 3 weeks we will do better.

QUESTION. Some of our bases in Africa and other parts of the world seem to be becoming untenable, and yet the Defense Department has announced the closing of one up here in Alaska, Ladd Field. What do you think about that at this time?

Senator KENNEDY. I am concerned about what we do about the defense of Alaska. The strategic decisions as to what weapons are most useful for defending Alaska or any other part in the final analysis is a decision for the Department of Defense, and the President of the United States. I don't think we should close any base unless we are prepared to place alternative stress on other weapons. I think missiles are going to provide a great means of defense for Alaska. This is a key defense area. While they may have made a determination that the technological changes in weapons make fighters unnecessary in this area, I do hope they will not draw the general conclusion that Alaska defenses should not be fully maintained. I am hopeful that as we make progress in other weapons Alaska needs will be recognized.

As far as Africa, itself, there are going to be many changes in our base structure in Africa. Some have already taken place in Morocco, and they may take place in other areas of Africa in the next year.

QUESTION. Senator, you were promised military intelligence briefings, from the President. Have you received that?

Senator KENNEDY. Yes. I talked on Thursday morning to General Wheeler from the Department of Defense. He came over to my office and I talked to him for an hour.

QUESTION. General who?

Senator KENNEDY. General Wheeler.

QUESTION. What is his first name?

Senator KENNEDY. He didn't brief me on that. [Laughter.]

QUESTION. What size general was he?

Senator KENNEDY. Three stars.

QUESTION. Do you care to comment on that? What is his job?

Senator KENNEDY. I will give you his title. He works under the Chiefs of Staff, but his complete title I will have to provide you.

QUESTION. How did you feel afterwards? Have you any comment on that?

Senator KENNEDY. I think that General Wheeler did admit his responsibility.

QUESTION. Senator, you told Allen Dulles when he came up, "Don't you ever have any good news in that bag?" Did you say the same thing to Wheeler?

Senator KENNEDY. No, I thought--

QUESTION. Or did he have some good news?

Senator KENNEDY. I think that in the SAC briefing of General Wheeler there was emphasis on the good.

QUESTION. Senator, do you feel that failure of your personally sponsored bills in the predominantly Democratic Congress was, as the Republicans say, a political setback?

Senator KENNEDY. I think that the experience of the last Congress, and I think that Senator Bartlett and Senator Gruening will agree, and both of them took the same position on all of these controversial pieces of legislation that I did - minimum wage, medical care for the aged, housing, education - I think that the lesson we learned from this session was that you cannot possibly pass these bills unless you have the support of the administration, unless you have the affirmative endorsement by whoever is President of the United States, because the power of veto hangs so heavily over the Congress, especially in a short session, where it would be extremely difficult to override and especially with the parliamentary devices available. I would say that the lesson of this Congress is that you cannot pass these bills which I consider to be essential unless you have the support of the President. It is extremely difficult to operate under the conditions that we were compelled to. So I think the lesson of this Congress is that we need a Democratic President.

QUESTION. Thank you, Senator.

John F. Kennedy, Press Conference of Senator John F. Kennedy, Anchorage, Alaska, Westward Hotel Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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