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Historic 1960 Humphrey-Kennedy debate took place in West Virginia

Charleston Gazette-Mail image courtesy of the West Virginia State Archives The cover of the program for the 1960 debate between Democratic presidential candidates Hubert H. Humphrey (left) and John F. Kennedy, both U.S. senators at the time, is shown. The debate, televised by WCHS-TV in Charleston, is believed to be the second televised presidential primary debate.
Charleston Gazette-Mail image courtesy of the West Virginia State Archives
The cover of the program for the 1960 debate between Democratic presidential candidates Hubert H. Humphrey (left) and John F. Kennedy, both U.S. senators at the time, is shown. The debate, televised by WCHS-TV in Charleston, is believed to be the second televised presidential primary debate.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Organizers of a campaign to bring a 2016 presidential debate to Charleston are hoping history is on their side — in the form of a groundbreaking 1960 debate held here.

On May 4, 1960 — a week before the historic West Virginia primary election — John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey took part in one of the earliest televised debates among presidential hopefuls in history.

The live televised debate originated from WCHS-TV studios in Charleston and was retransmitted via microwave to four other West Virginia stations and to a number of large-market TV stations nationwide.

“Most people are not aware of the significance of Charleston to the development of televised national debates,” Mike Stuart, chairman of the West Virginia Commission on Presidential Debates, said Monday.

Charleston is one of 16 cities under consideration by the national Commission on Presidential Debates to host one of four nationally televised debates in 2016.

When members of the national commission made a site visit to Charleston earlier this month, Stuart said the state hosts played excerpts of the 1960 primary debate for them.

“I think they found it to be a very interesting experience,” Stuart said. “None of them knew about it.”

Until very recently, it was thought that only excerpts of the debate existed, given the high cost of videotape or kinescope recording at the time.

However, West Virginia Wesleyan political science and history professor Robert Rupp said he recently discovered that the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston has the only known copy of the entire hour-long debate…

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