In 1952 the Cow Palace hosted a political rally for General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was campaigning for the presidency based on his enormous popularity from WWII. With the campaign slogan “I Like Ike,” Eisenhower won a landslide victory over Democrat Adlai Stevenson, ending a string of Democratic Party wins that stretched back to 1932.
The Cow Palace twice hosted the Republican National Convention, in 1956 and 1964. 1956 convention delegates renominated Dwight D. Eisenhower for President and Richard Nixon for Vice President. This ticket also won in a landslide.
In 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy spoke at the Cow Palace on November 2, one week before the presidential election. Entitled "Staffing a Foreign Policy for Peace," the famous speech included Kennedy's proposal for a Peace Corps, outlining in broad terms the new agency he envisioned as an essential component of countering global Soviet influence during the Cold War.
Kennedy and running mate Lyndon B. Johnson defeated rivals Nixon and Lodge in a closely contested election during politically turbulent times. In 1963, Kennedy was assassinated and was succeeded by Johnson. Nixon would later successfully seek the presidency in 1968.
On May 30, 1964 at the Cow Palace, as national tensions continued to rise during the fight for civil rights, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the interfaith Human Dignity rally. He returned in July of that year to address the Platform Committee at the Republican National Convention to persuade the GOP brass to include civil rights language in the party platform. The Republicans shunned MLK's ideas and nominated Barry Goldwater.
At the 1964 Republican National Convention, Party moderators staged a last-ditch effort to block the nomination of insurgent right-wing candidate Barry Goldwater, who endorsed militant views including halting the expansion of civil rights protections, aggressively confronting communism and using tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam.
While civil rights marchers protested outside the Cow Palace, the KKK rallied at San Francisco City Hall in support of Goldwater. Some young demonstrators outside the Cow Palace, caught up in Beatlemania, called for the nomination of Ringo Starr; but whimsy aside, the stakes for the nation were high.
Rival William Scranton led Goldwater widely in national polls, but convention delegates (including Ronald Reagan, who launched his political career at the 1964 Convention) rebelled and forced through Goldwater's nomination. Goldwater won the nomination, but lost the election to Lyndon Johnson In one of the most crushing victories in the history of U.S. presidential elections - winning just 6 states and 52 electoral college votes.
John F. Kennedy speaks at the Cow Palace on Nov. 2, 1960, calling for the establishment of a "Peace Corps."
Martin Luther King, Jr., speaks at the interfaith Human Dignity rally at the Cow Palace on May 30, 1964.
Actor Ronald Reagan, an alternate delegate at the 1964 Convention, shows his support for far-right candidate Barry Goldwater.