The party's presidential nominee is chosen in a series of individual state caucuses and primary elections. Superdelegates, delegates whose votes are not bound to the outcome of a state's caucus or primary, may also influence the nomination. Due to the scheduling of caucuses and primary elections early in the election year, the party's presidential nominee is usually known months before the Democratic National Convention.
The major candidates for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination were Kennedy, Governor Pat Brown of California, Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, former Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson, Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon, and Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota. Several other candidates sought support in their home state or region as "favorite son" candidates without any realistic chance of winning the nomination. Symington, Stevenson, and Johnson all declined to campaign in the presidential primaries. While this reduced their potential delegate count going into the Democratic National Convention, each of these three candidates hoped that the other leading contenders would stumble in the primaries, thus causing the convention's delegates to choose him as a "compromise" candidate acceptable to all factions of the party.