Sam Rayburn even told LBJ that he needed to be the Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate to ensure victory on Election Day. JFK and RFK did the same Electoral College math, and there was no way around it: they needed a lot of help out of their running mate. Ironically, JFK made up his mind to select LBJ as VP while RFK was visiting Johnson trying to change the Senate Majority Leader's mind, offering LBJ the Chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee (which was an insult). LBJ and those loyal to him believed that RFK insulted LBJ out of pure hatred, which RFK repeatedly denied over the years. It was far more likely that JFK sent RFK to find out how much LBJ wanted to be VP; if LBJ said no, then Senator Stuart Symington (MO) would be the choice. And, if LBJ said yes, then JFK could play the part of the fair-and-square Democratic candidate with RFK yet again taking the blame for being ruthless. One thing was abundantly clear: there was no way that RFK and LBJ would ever get along in the future. In Beverly Hills, California, a relatively downcast JFK and a very downcast RFK went to visit their very upbeat father; Joe told JFK that within two weeks the press would say that LBJ as VP was the smartest move to make.
Under the layer of politics, not much separated JFK from the Republican nominee, Vice-President Richard Nixon. RFK framed JFK's campaign around the themes of style, hope, and optimism, knowing that by far Nixon had the advantage in terms of experience. RFK kept the focus on the intangibles, such as JFK's charisma, just as he had done in JFK's successful upset over Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. for a Senate seat in 1952. RFK understood that he had to get JFK on television, side-by-side with his comparatively less-than-handsome opponent. But even though JFK and Nixon would engage in the first-ever televised
Presidential debates, Nixon was the furthest thing from a TV neophyte (e.g. the "Checkers Speech"). However, Nixon simply couldn't match JFK's style, and he was not yet the master of dirty tricks, although Nixon would learn plenty from JFK and RFK during the General Campaign of 1960.
As soon as the arrest in Georgia of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was made public, JFK and RFK started making calculations how they could help MLK, Jr. and also help themselves. Standing up for MLK, Jr. could cost them Georgia, but not standing up for him would cost them nationally in terms of African-American and Northern Liberal votes. RFK's solution was to have it both ways: JFK and RFK started to quietly make phone calls, starting with JFK's call to the Governor of Georgia. JFK and the governor each saw in the other a politician that they understood, and the governor started to get things done on his end, especially laying the groundwork with the key judge in the state.
The Governor of Georgia, Ernest Vandiver, not only paved the way for RFK to call the judge, but also convinced the judge that he could release MLK, Jr. pending an appeal, which let everyone off the hook while saving face. RFK told the judge that he would be a welcome visitor in the White House, an offer that the judge would later cash in. The judge released MLK, Jr. on bail, and the judge also hinted to reporters that RFK had made that happen . . . and by implication, that Nixon hadn't done a thing. RFK made sure ahead of time that his efforts to release MLK, Jr. wouldn't backfire, asking every state's Democratic Party chairman what their thoughts were on the potential release of MLK, Jr.
President Eisenhower basically pegged it right why Nixon lost to JFK (the popular vote was JFK 49.7%, Nixon 49.6%): two phone calls. JFK called Coretta Scott King when he was near O'Hare International Airport, and RFK made his call to the Georgia judge from Long Island, both on behalf of a jailed MLK, Jr. Neither call lasted more than a few minutes, but those two calls (plus JFK's initial call to the GA Governor) resulted in MLK, Jr. being freed. Nixon did press Ike for some action on MLK, Jr.'s behalf, but the President refused, and Nixon didn't take the matter any further.
White America paid little attention to MLK, Jr.'s release from jail, but African-Americans knew all about it, and that JFK and RFK were the main reason MLK, Jr. gained his freedom. Nixon, who had been in the good graces of African-American voters for years, and had taken the time to meet MLK, Jr. face-to-face, captured only 1/3 of the African-American vote, a steep drop from Ike's total in 1956. That juxtaposition of the African-American vote accounted for JFK's razor-thin victory over Nixon; during the primaries, JFK had been the least-popular Democratic candidate among African-American voters. . . . the phone calls made by JFK and RFK were the difference in the very, very close Presidential Election of 1960.