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Kennedy In West Virginia

By Topper Sherwood

John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy speaking at the West Virginia State Capitol. Charleston Gazette photograph courtesy of John F. Kennedy Memorial Library.

As he flew into West Virginia that spring of 1960, Kennedy was desperately in need of victory. His most visible opponent was Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota but, as usual, most of the action was happening behind the scenes. Kennedy would eventually win the West Virginia primary not just on personal charm - although this, too, was important – but on his campaign team's understanding of old-time mountain politics. West Virginia's politics were — and are — strongly based on what one historian has called its "oral political culture," established by local candidates and their supporters working on a "face-to-face, friends-and-neighbors basis."

This is a world that John Kennedy understood very well. His grandfather, John F. "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, had been a bare-knuckles contender in the rough-and-tumble world of Boston politics. And his father, Joe Kennedy, was legendary for his political maneuvering during and after the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. Wood County industrialist Robert McDonough, who coordinated the Kennedy campaign in West Virginia, called JFK "the smartest politician in the crew."

You can read the rest of this article in the Summer 2000 issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.