ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

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Democrats may still be licking their political wounds from last week, but 50 years ago today, the party was ecstatic. John Fitzgerald Kennedy had won the 1960 presidential election.

Unidentified Man: There's President-elect Kennedy now.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Man: They're all throwing confetti. There's his wife, Jackie Kennedy. The president-elect is shaking hands.

SIEGEL: That's NBC broadcasting from Hyannis, Massachusetts on November 9, 1960.

As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, this golden anniversary of JFK's victory coincides with the end of a Kennedy era in Washington.

TOVIA SMITH: It wasn't until the day after the election in 1960 that victory was confirmed for the youngest man ever elected to the Oval Office and the nation's first Catholic president.

President JOHN KENNEDY: A supreme national effort will be needed in the years ahead to move this country safely through the 1960s.

SMITH: With the president-elect that day was adviser Richard Donahue, who would help to build a new administration around Kennedy and his brother Bobby, who would become attorney general.

Mr. RICHARD DONAHUE (Former Adviser to President Kennedy): It was, for us, a dawning of a totally new day. We just had no belief that there were any limitations on how he could lead us, and they thought that this guy could do it all for them.

Pres. KENNEDY: I ask your help in this effort...

SMITH: JFK's tenure, of course, ended in tragedy, but that distinct Kennedy-Boston accent would continue to be heard in the nation's capital long after the president's assassination as family members continued a long streak of election victories.

Senator EDWARD KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): What is the price? We ask the other side, what is the price that you want from these working men and women? When does the greed stop?

SMITH: From the late Senator Edward Kennedy's thundering calls for minimum wage or health care to Congressmen Joe Kennedy and Patrick Kennedy, who've echoed the calls over the past 25 years.

Sen. KENNEDY: We're talking about war and peace, $3 billion, a thousand lives and no press?

(Soundbite of gavel)

Sen. KENNEDY: It's despicable.

SMITH: But next month, when Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy leaves office, it will be the first time in 60 years that a Kennedy will not hold elected office in the nation's capital - a point Kennedy sees as minor.

Representative PATRICK KENNEDY (Democrat, Rhode Island): The legacy my family has had has been a legacy of public service, not of public office.

SMITH: Kennedy insists he can be as effective or maybe even more effective from outside Congress.

Rep. KENNEDY: The ability to make a difference is enormous, you know, elevating that branding of being a Kennedy and to use the spotlight that it brings and focus it on issues that need to have attention paid to them.

SMITH: Indeed, countless Kennedy cousins are active in everything from the environment to child welfare and the rights of the disabled. And even Kennedy aide Richard Donahue says he was not sorry, for example, that Caroline Kennedy decided not to run for Senate from New York.

Mr. DONAHUE: The viciousness in today's politics is beyond belief, and you don't want to see anybody you like hurt.

SMITH: In the heart of Kennedy country in Massachusetts, the milestone evoked some sentimentality.

Ms. CAROL DOPPELT: The end of the Kennedy era is hard to believe. Very sad, very sad.

SMITH: But even to voters like Carol and Steve Doppelt from Framingham, the end of the Kennedy dynasty is also a welcome relief.

Ms. DOPPELT: There's no royalty in this country, and there comes a point when the best of our representatives should step aside and let new people come in and take over.

Mr. STEVE DOPPELT: We're not England. We're American. It shouldn't be locked into one family.

SMITH: They say they have only great respect for the Kennedys, but given their anti-incumbent bent this year, even if a Kennedy was running, they say they would have voted against that Kennedy too.

Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

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