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Exactly 50 years ago today, John F. Kennedy was elected president of the United States. At 43, the youngest person ever elected, JFK defeated Richard Nixon in one of the closest elections of the 20th century. But for about a year before election day, LIFE photographers shadowed the campaign trail, documenting rallies, small soapbox speeches and quieter family moments.
Historical photos show that Kennedy was zealous, handsome, young and charismatic; and his campaign was, similarly, engaging and dynamic — if not divisive. This collection of photos from LIFE has never been published before now, and paints a fuller picture of what that campaign trail was like for the underdog (LIFE endorsed Nixon during the campaign), who skirted in as the winner with a mere 113,000 votes.
See more on LIFE's site.