Nixon's prominence as an anti-Communist soon brought him to greater national attention. General Dwight Eisenhower, the Republican candidate for president in 1952, selected Nixon as his running mate at the Republican convention in Chicago on July 11, 1952.
Two months later, the New York Post ran an article claiming that campaign donors were buying influence with Nixon by providing him with a secret cash fund for his personal expenses. Nixon defended himself against the accusations, noting that the fund was neither secret nor unusual and produced an independent audit showing that the funds had been used only for political purposes. To rebut his critics, Nixon appeared on television to the largest audience in history to date. In the live, nationwide broadcast, Nixon detailed his personal financial history and then outflanked his detractors by saying that his family had accepted one campaign gift for themselves: a beloved black-and-white cocker spaniel named Checkers whom they intended to keep. The speech was a great success, shoring up his support with the Republican Party's base, demonstrating his appeal to the wider public, and thus keeping him on the Republican ticket-and proving the importance of television as a political medium.
In November 1952, Eisenhower and Nixon defeated the candidates on the Democratic ticket, presidential nominee Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson and running mate Alabama Senator John Sparkman, by seven million votes.
Under Eisenhower, Nixon made the vice presidency a visible and important office. Nixon chaired National Security Council meetings in the president's absence and undertook many goodwill tours of foreign countries in an effort to shore up support for American policies during the Cold War. On one such trip to Caracas, Venezuela, on May 13, 1958, protesters first spat on the vice president and Mrs. Nixon at the airport. Later that day, rioters assaulted Nixon's motorcade, injuring Venezuela's foreign minister and making Nixon realize that he might actually be killed. Nixon attracted international notice for his coolness in the face of anti-American demonstrations.
In July 1959, Eisenhower sent Nixon to the Soviet Union to represent the United States at the opening of the American National Exhibition in Moscow, the Soviet capital. While touring the exhibit with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, the pair stopped at a model of an American kitchen. There they engaged in an impromptu discussion about the American standard of living that quickly escalated into an exchange over the two countries' ideological and military strength. Nixon's performance in the "kitchen debate" further raised his stature back in the United States.
In 1960, facing little competition, Nixon won the Republican nomination for president and chose former Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, to be his running mate. The election of 1960 was a hard-fought contest between Nixon and the Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy, who had also been elected to Congress in 1946. Many observers then and later concluded that the turning point came during the first-ever televised debates. Nixon, wearing little make-up, looked wan and uncomfortable, while Kennedy appeared to be cool, composed, and confident. In November, Nixon lost to Kennedy by less than 120,000 votes, or 0.2 percent of the popular vote.
Following the defeat, the Nixon family left Washington in January 1961 and returned to southern California, where Nixon practiced law and wrote a bestselling memoir, Six Crises. Throughout 1961, local and national Republican leaders encouraged Nixon to run for governor in 1962 against Democratic incumbent Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, Sr., arguing that staying on the sidelines would mean the end of Nixon's political life. Despite initial reluctance, Nixon entered the race. His campaign was hobbled by a combination of the public's suspicion that Nixon viewed the office as a stepping-stone, opposition from the far right of his own party, and his own lack of interest in being governor. He lost to Brown by nearly 300,000 votes. At the time, even Nixon viewed the defeat as the end of his career in politics, telling reporters the Wednesday morning following election night 1962 that "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference."
The Nixon family then moved to New York City, where Nixon resumed his practice as a lawyer. Later, after he had become president, Nixon called this period his "wilderness years," comparing his time out of office to similar interludes in the lives of leaders such as Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle. Although largely out of the public eye, Nixon remained active in politics, commenting on the policies of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and campaigning for Republican candidates. Nixon retained the support of many Republicans across the country who respected his knowledge of politics and international affairs, a reputation enhanced in 1967 by Nixon's article "Asia After Vietnam" in the eminent journal Foreign Affairs. Nixon's strenuous efforts on behalf of Republican congressional candidates around the country in 1966 further solidified his support among members of the party.