Released: May 6, 1999
David Adams to present research on 1960s Presidential campaign
DANVILLE, KY -- When Athens resident David Adams presents a major research paper at Centre College's John C. Young Symposium in May, he hopes to prove that Richard Nixon's 1960 election campaign represented a turning point in U.S. political history.
According to Adams, several factors came together that prompted Nixon to take personal control of his campaign, ending a long-standing tradition of having Presidential campaigns run by the central office of the candidate's political party.
From Nixon's precedent, the U.S. has moved increasingly toward candidate-centered campaigns. As Adams observes: "With the Nixon campaign, we ended the era of candidates emerging from a smoke-filled room with an obligation to the party machine. And now that candidates must have widespread appeal beyond party's inner circle, the selection process tends to favor candidates who are charismatic, good-looking and well-spoken. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton are obvious examples."
Adams pursued his research after winning one of Centre's prestigious John C. Young Scholar Awards. He and the other scholars will present the results of their work at a campus symposium in mid-May, and Adams says he looks forward to explaining his project. As a history major, he got interested in the 1960 Presidential election after a friend told him that an important set of historical documents from that era had recently been reorganized and made more accessible. Adams originally tackled the project during a junior history seminar and found so much material that he carried the topic on through his senior year and the Young Scholars project.
"The unusual factor in the Nixon campaign," Adams says, "was a split between U.S. Sen. Thurston Morton of Kentucky and Nixon. Morton had hoped to get the Presidential bid, but he failed and, of course, harbored some jealously toward Nixon. At the same time, Morton held on to his post as chairman of the Republican National Committee, and according to tradition, that meant he would be running Nixon's campaign. Sensing the potential for internal conflict that would detract from his efforts, Nixon simply took control of everything himself."
Those unusual circumstances in the Nixon campaign were compounded by increasing use of electronic media, according to Adams. "With the emergence of television," Adams says, "candidates had to be more in control of who was speaking on their behalf."
With all the changes, have the national political parties become irrelevant? Not at all, according to Adams. "The political parties now focus on the financial and organizational aspects of campaigning," he says, "and they have kept tremendous clout in the financial arena."
Adams is the son of Michael and Mary Adams of Athens. He is a graduate of Danville (Ky.) High School. After graduating from Centre this year, he plans to attend law school.
The John C. Young Scholars program annually provides research stipends to a select number of Centre seniors for advanced work in collaboration with a Centre faculty member. Adams collaborated with Dr. Clarence Wyatt of the history department.
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