Over the years, it has been concluded that there was Russian influence in the 1960 election. A U-2 surveillance plane operated by the CIA was shot down by the Soviet air force while flying near the city of Yekaterinburg. The U-2’s pilot, Francis Gary Powers, was taken prisoner and put on trial for espionage, eventually being sentenced to a decade in a Soviet prison. The Eisenhower administration had been caught lying and this was costly for Nixon, due to his association with it. They pretended it was a plane that had been studying weather patterns for NASA and had accidently strayed off its path. But, this was soon proven to be wrong. To make matters worse, an American RB-47H reconnaissance bomber was shot down by Soviet forces in July. The Soviets held the two surviving American pilots prisoners – Captain Freeman Olmstead and Captain John McKone who had planned to shoot the Soviet North in July 1960. Nixon had endeavored to negotiate with the Soviets in order to release both men before Election Day. However, the Soviets knew that the failure of these negotiations would negatively reflect on Nixon, and so they refused to release them. In such a tight election, any small problem could cause the victory of the other candidate. Both men were released shortly after Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961, allowing him to begin his presidency on positive terms. As tense as things were, Khrushchev believed those events also gave the Soviets a small amount of influence over that year’s presidential race between Nixon and Kennedy. “I expressed my opinion to the leadership: The United States government has asked us to release Powers,” Khrushchev wrote in his memoir. “Now is not the time to do it.” Noting that the two candidates were at a “stalemate,” Khrushchev recalled saying that if Gary Powers or the other Americans were released before the election, it could give Nixon a boost. It would be better to wait until after the election, the Soviet premier thought. “My comrades agreed, and we did not release Powers,” he wrote. “As it turned out, we’d done the right thing. Kennedy won the election by a majority of only 200,000 or so votes, a negligible margin if you consider the huge population of the United States. The slightest nudge either way would have been decisive.”
Cuba also played a big role in determining the outcome of the 1960 election. The successful completion of the Cuban Revolution, which meant the establishment of Fidel Castro’s power, was seen as a major failure in Eisenhower’s foreign policy. The Cuban Revolution meant that the United States had a Soviet ally very close to their own borders, a major concern for voters during the cold war. Kennedy did not lose the opportunity to tie Nixon to this problem and directly blame him for it. “They cannot hide the basic facts that American strength in relation to that of the Sino-Soviet bloc relatively has been slipping, and communism has been steadily advancing until now it rests 90 miles from this city of Miami”.
On October 1960, Senator John F Kennedy made a statement on Cuba in which he directly attacked Nixon and his current policy: “Mr. Nixon’s new Cuba policy is too little and too late. After doing nothing for 6 years while the conditions that give rise to communism grew – after ignoring the repeated warning of our Ambassadors that the Communists were about to take over Cuba – after standing helplessly by while the Russians established a new satellite only 90 miles from American shores – Mr. Nixon and the Republicans, after 2 years of inaction since Castro took power, now attempt to make up for this incredible history of blunder, inaction, retreat and failure, by cutting off several million dollars’ worth of exports in a move which will have virtually no effect by itself in removing Communist rule from Cuba.” He criticized Nixon for having taken no action: “For 6 years before Castro came to power the Republicans did absolutely nothing to stop the rise of communism in Cuba. Our Ambassadors repeatedly warned the Republicans of mounting danger. But the warning was ignored, and communism grows in strength and influence.
In 1955 Mr. Nixon went to Cuba to view conditions for himself. But his only reaction was to praise “the competence and stability” of the Batista dictatorship which was, even then, threatened by Communist activities – and to say that “communism has reached its high-water mark in Latin America” at a time when Communist influence was beginning to rise, and only a few short years before the Communists took over all of Cuba. Mr. Nixon saw nothing wrong in Cuba – he made no recommendations for action – he did not warn America that danger was growing – and as a result the Communists took over Cuba with virtually no opposition from the United States. Now the Communists have been in power for 2 years. Yet we have done almost nothing to keep Castro from consolidating his regime and beginning subversive activities throughout Latin America.” JFK even attacked the Republicans themselves insinuating that in order to combat Communism, the democrats must be elected: “Despite this pressing need for joint action, the Republicans have completely failed to enlist the cooperation of our allies. And the reason is plain. For under Republican leadership our prestige has fallen so low that our Latin American allies are no longer willing to follow our leadership in the fight against communism in this hemisphere.” At the end of the speech, he said: “The next administration will have to do much better than Mr. Nixon has done, if it intends to wage a serious offensive against communism on our very doorstep.” Kennedy is able to once again exploit Nixon’s association with Eisenhower and the failures he has committed during his years as vice-president and as a solution to this he offers his candidacy as an opportunity for change, as a “new generation”, and in this case, an opportunity to get rid of communism – something the previous administration, i.e. Nixon, has failed to do so – as the American population greatly desired.
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