Electing the President in 1960
By Bryan Ward, Jr.
On May 10, 1960, the eyes of an anxious nation watched as the voters in West Virginia went to the polls. In the four weeks that made up the West Virginia primary in 1960, candidates, their families, friends and supporters logged hundreds of miles as they visited every corner of West Virginia in an effort to gather any and every vote. When the dust settled from the election West Virginia had changed the political landscape and altered conventional political wisdom.
The general election in the fall became one of the closest presidential elections in United States history. On Election Day candidates and voters, alike, waited in anticipation until the wee hours of the following morning to see who was going to become the President of the United States.
Presidential ambitions do not begin with the candidate standing before well-wishers announcing his or her candidacy. They begin months, years and even decades before that celebrated day. For presidential hopefuls, the election year of 1960 marked a golden opportunity to run for president. With the passage of the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1951, Dwight Eisenhower became the first president of the United States to be limited by law to two four-year terms. Because of that change both parties would be fielding new candidates. The early favorites of the Republican Party were Vice President Richard Nixon and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. In contrast, the Democratic Party was especially eager to avenge the landside defeats in the two previous presidential elections and regain the White House, which left the field full of possibilities as the party searched for a nominee who could win in the general election.
The Democratic National Convention in 1956 set the stage for the candidates who eventually made up the presidential field in 1960. During that convention, Adlai Stevenson received the party’s presidential nomination for a second time, but in a move that defied tradition, he relinquished the responsibility of choosing his vice presidential candidate to the convention. In the wake of his decision three men began to mobilize their forces to secure the coveted stepping-stone position of vice president: Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy, who placed Stevenson’s name before the convention only days before; loyal supporter Minnesota Senator Hubert H. Humphrey; and Stevenson’s main Democratic rival in 1952 and 1956, Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver. Following two closely-contested ballots Kefauver out-distanced Kennedy and received the party’s 1956 nomination for vice president.
Kennedy and his team realized that he lacked a national following and the political network necessary to secure a nomination at any future Democratic National Convention. To bolster his national appeal and to develop a political network, Kennedy made numerous trips across the United States to attend Democratic meetings, fundraising events and gatherings, all in the hope of making important connections that he would need when election time came around in 1960. In spite of his defeat, Kennedy wasted little time and quickly joined the Democratic fight in 1956. On one of his stops Kennedy visited Wheeling on October 14, 1956, to speak on behalf of Adlai Stevenson at the Virginia Theatre. On this visit, his first to West Virginia, Kennedy spoke before a capacity crowd. In his speech entitled “The Problems of This Day,” Kennedy argued that instead of a pathway to the future, Eisenhower and the Republicans were leading America on a “pathway of weakness.” He furthered his comments with a verbal jab at then Vice President Nixon when he said the future of the Republican Party was the party of Nixon, and he believed that voters would reject a future with Nixon on Election Day. He also told the crowd that he believed that the race between Eisenhower and Stevenson was going to be a close one. While he thrilled the crowd with his speech, his pronouncement that the country would reject Eisenhower and Nixon and that the race was going to be close later proved to be quite incorrect. Following his Virginia Theatre speech, the Massachusetts senator made an appearance at a rally held at Wheeling Park by the Holy Name Society, a united group of Catholic churches and organizations in the Ohio Valley. Newspaper coverage of his visit made no mention of Kennedy’s religious affiliation and described bishop coadjutor of the Wheeling Diocese as a personal friend. Four years later, Kennedy’s religion would receive much greater attention and coverage in the campaign.
After his disappointing bid for the vice presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention in 1956, Hubert Humphrey realized that to achieve his ambitions he would also have to raise his profile nationally and make political connections. In the ensuing years, he made a widely publicized visit to meet Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1958. Later in the year and in the weeks leading up to the 1958 congressional midterm elections, Humphrey made a trip to Moundsville to be the guest speaker at the Marshall County Democratic Dinner on October 4th. He further advanced his national appeal when he graced the cover of Time magazine in November following the Democratic congressional sweep of 1958 that sent West Virginia’s Jennings Randolph and Robert C. Byrd to the U.S. Senate.
Kennedy also made the rounds supporting candidates in the 1958 midterm elections. He made his second trip to West Virginia on June 11, 1958, to make connections in the state’s Democratic Party when he spoke to the party’s fundraising Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Morgantown. On October 9, and a few weeks before the 1958 midterm elections he made a return visit to the state when he visited the party faithful at Parkersburg and to take part in a parade for Democrats. The following day Vice President Richard Nixon made a campaign stop in Huntington to bolster Republican support in the state.
While President Eisenhower was still very popular, the midterm elections of 1958 signaled big problems for Republicans. The election was a monumental victory for Democrats, who gained 16 seats in the Senate and 48 seats in the House of Representatives. With this tidal wave of success, the Democratic presidential hopefuls stepped up their travel schedules and made several high-profile trips to West Virginia.
Hubert Humphrey was the first presidential hopeful to return to West Virginia in 1959. On his visit he was the guest speaker at the 2nd Annual Democratic Women’s Day banquet on March 21 at the Daniel Boone Hotel in Charleston. At the event he blasted the Eisenhower Administration for its lack of concern for people, saying that the administration “puts dollars before people, puts balancing the budget before balancing the nation’s economy and puts fat corporate profits before full employment.” On another visit on November 21, Humphrey spoke to approximately 400 people at a fundraising dinner for the Young Democrats of Raleigh County and the Raleigh County Democratic Executive Committee at the Beckley Hotel Ballroom.
To continue his efforts at widening his name recognition and popularity, John Kennedy returned to West Virginia on several key swing visits. In May, Kennedy visited southern West Virginia with Senator Jennings Randolph. Following a tour of the coal fields Kennedy made his way to Welch where he was the guest speaker for the 75th Harry Truman Birthday Party held by Democrats in Mercer and McDowell counties. The following day he attended a rally held by the Democratic Party of Wyoming County. In October, Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline made a sweep through the state with well-publicized stops in Wellsburg and Charleston.
While the nomination for the Democratic Party seemed wide open in the fall of 1959, the Republican field was not as crowded, with only two serious candidates in line for the GOP nomination. Vice President Richard Nixon was the front runner for the nomination and was playing the role as the heir apparent to the White House. Nixon’s only viable rival for the nomination was the newly elected New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Unlike the complex coalition of the Democratic Party, the Republican Party in the late 1950s was formed by two differing factions: a progressive, moralistic and reform-minded faction of the Teddy Roosevelt mold and a fiscally conservative pro-business faction. In an effort to measure the political lay of the land, Rockefeller and his political team from early October to December traveled the country to meet with the key financial supporters and power brokers of the Republican Party to gauge support for his bid for the White House. When Rockefeller and his team met in late December of 1959, it was clear to them that the business wing of the party wanted Nixon and would financially support only him.
What many of Nixon’s rivals failed to recognize was that while many believed that the role of vice president was only a position of glad-handing, ribbon cuttings and parades, Nixon used these opportunities during his eight-year tenure as vice president to meet with the key supporters of the party, forge close relationships and most importantly lock up their financial support for his presidential run in 1960. Faced with this reality, the Rockefeller team realized that any run without support from the party’s financial wing was doomed to failure. Rockefeller quietly bowed out as he boarded a train for the Christmas holiday. For the Nixon camp, the Rockefeller withdrawal was a huge disappointment because Nixon and his advisors believed that the primary fight would provide an opportunity to enliven the party and keep his name before voters. With Rockefeller out of the picture, Nixon had to be content playing statesman while Democrats in their primary battles consistently bashed the Eisenhower Administration, the record Nixon was running on and a major component of his political strength. The Nixon team also realized that his message would be lost during the primary season because without a primary opponent to battle, the press would not seek him out, and Democrats would dominate press coverage from January until the Democratic National Convention in July. Nixon was left trying to garner positive attention while he waited for the general election campaign to begin in earnest in the fall.
When the presidential primary season began most campaign watchers gave little thought to West Virginia. Only Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota and Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts were officially on the West Virginia ballot for president, but other contenders for the office, like Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson and Missouri Senator Stuart Symington, were aggressively working behind the scenes to further their own political ambitions. Johnson and Symington were working to derail Kennedy’s bid for the nomination by prolonging the primary fight between Kennedy and Humphrey in hopes that a deadlocked Democratic convention would seek a compromise candidate on a second or third ballot. Johnson believed that his political clout and senatorial connections could mobilize support to push him over the top. Symington believed that his defense experience and the political weight and support of fellow Missourian and former President Harry S. Truman could convince delegates at the convention to support him.
While the Democratic field was crowded with ambitious upstarts and connected power brokers, the biggest and most prominent unknown of the campaign was former Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson had twice run unsuccessfully for the presidency in 1952 and 1956 with landslide losses to the Republican Dwight Eisenhower. In spite of these major losses, Stevenson was still politically prominent and remained a favorite of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party which included one of his biggest supporters, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1952 Democratic leaders had drafted Stevenson into the presidential nomination at the convention, and many believed, and hoped, that if the door was left open he could be drafted again in 1960. Stevenson, himself, made little effort to promote that scenario, but he also made little effort to close that door either, and many political observers believe that he was still interested in the office.
In the summer of 1959, Kennedy and Humphrey were both honing their strategy to obtain the Democratic nomination. In total there were 16 states in 1960 that were holding primary elections to determine representation to the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. The Kennedy camp viewed Wisconsin as the state where victory could eliminate Humphrey, who they saw as his main competition in the primaries. Kennedy’s camp hoped that the primaries would reveal that Humphrey’s political appeal was weak and limited only to Minnesota. Kennedy also believed that a strong showing in the primaries would convince political bosses in the East that he was a serious candidate who could deliver the presidency to the Democratic Party.
The Humphrey camp, planning in Minnesota during the summer of 1959, believed that his hopes rested on the 5 primaries that would most likely support his candidacy: Wisconsin, the District of Columbia, West Virginia, Oregon, and South Dakota. With a victory in Wisconsin he believed that he could raise enough money to contend in West Virginia and with each subsequent victory more money would become available. If he could last, and with help at the convention, Humphrey believed that he could receive the nomination and defeat Nixon in November.
In hopes of getting a jump on the Kennedy campaign, Humphrey formally announced his candidacy for president on December 30, 1959. Kennedy followed a few days later when he formally announced his candidacy January 2, 1960. For the next few months the other candidates remained on the sidelines. The first to move from the shadows was Symington, who in an effort to put his name before the public before the Wisconsin primary announced his candidacy on March 24. Johnson never formally announced, but his closely tied supporters announced an “unofficial” Johnson for President Committee as early as October of 1959. While he wasn’t officially in the race, he, along with Adlai Stevenson, was a part of any serious discussion of the Democratic nomination.
With the campaign officially underway, Humphrey was the first candidate to stop in West Virginia. In late January of 1960, Humphrey spoke before the West Virginia House of Delegates. During his speech, Humphrey declared that poverty was an issue that undermined the country’s national strength and that the Eisenhower Administration stood like a “stunned ox . . . unwilling and unable apparently to understand what is going on.” Also during the speech he addressed issues that found a willing audience in the State Capitol when he called for the expansion of federally sponsored research to find additional uses for the state’s abundant natural resources and steps to end the cut-rate practices of foreign countries in the coal market.
Although both Kennedy and Humphrey had announced their candidacy neither candidate had officially filed the paperwork to enter the West Virginia Primary. On February 3, 1960, however, that changed when the Humphrey campaign announced that he was going to formally enter the West Virginia primary. That same day the Kennedy campaign announced a press conference at the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office in Charleston. The campaign later retracted their statement and announced that the press conference would instead take place in Washington because Kennedy had legislative duties in the Senate that would prevent him from making the trip on the 4th. In the wee hours of October 6, Kennedy did make the trip to Charleston to formally his primary paperwork and to provide a press conference from Secretary of State Joe Burdette’s office. Following the brief visit Kennedy boarded a plane and flew to his next speaking engagement in the west.
The first primary election on the 1960 election calendar was held on March 8 in New Hampshire. Kennedy was the only serious contender on the ballot. Humphrey steered clear of the contest because he realized that Kennedy’s political strength was in New England and participation in the primary would result in a humiliating second place finish. When the votes were counted Kennedy won by a huge margin, even doubling the previous primary record held by Estes Kefauver in 1956. While the victory did not change the minds of powerbrokers in the Democratic Party who questioned the viability of his candidacy, Kennedy must have relished eclipsing the vote total record held by Kefauver, who four years earlier nudged him from the vice presidential nomination at the Democratic Convention. In spite of the victory, everyone who followed politics knew that the first real test for Kennedy and Humphrey was Wisconsin.
On March 16, Kennedy returned to West Virginia to open his campaign headquarters at the Kanawha Hotel in Charleston. During the press conference Kennedy told reporters that he believed West Virginians were more concerned with economic issues than with his religion. He answered questions about Missouri Senator Stuart Symington, who was speaking before the Third Annual Democratic Women’s Day luncheon on the following Saturday. Kennedy told reporters that he wished Symington would have run in the primaries because they were an important part of the process. He explained that the hopes of Johnson and Symington rested with Hubert Humphrey, a prolonged primary battle, and a hung convention. Kennedy further explained that he believed that the voters of West Virginia would chose between Humphrey and himself and wouldn’t be part of any scheme devised by Symington or Johnson.
A few days later on March 19, Symington spoke before the Democratic Women’s Day luncheon in Charleston. Unlike Hubert Humphrey, who spoke before the group the year before, Symington didn’t have the event solely to himself. Also attending and representing Humphrey was his sister Mrs. Frances Howard of Baltimore, while Kennedy was represented by his brother Ted. Symington was coy with reporters about announcing his candidacy, but most in the crowd knew he was interested in being president. In political circles Symington was dubbed as the “Missouri Compromise” for the Democratic nomination. Before the crowd of 500, Symington made it known that he was becoming “more interested” in running for president. Presenting a humble posture, he told the crowd that it was because of the urgings of the people who he met in his travels and letter writers who shared with the senator their apprehensive outlook of the future. In an interview with Gazette-Mail reporter Mary Chilton Abbot, Symington dropped his coy stance and admitted that he would accept the nomination if offered. Following his visit Symington must have become even more interested in the office because a few days later, on March 24, he formally announced his candidacy.
On the heels of Kennedy and Symington, Humphrey made a visit to Huntington on March 23 to address a crowd of about 300 Democrats at the Hotel Frederick. Humphrey was three hours late for the engagement because he was tending to Senate business. During his speech Humphrey was quick to blame the state’s and the country’s economic woes directly on the Eisenhower Administration and its policies, but he was careful not to place blame on Eisenhower the man for fear of offending voters. In closing, he urged voters to support Jennings Randolph in his reelection bid for a full 6-year Senate term against sitting Governor Cecil Underwood. He also urged voters to support Congressman Ken Hechler in his bid to return to the House of Representatives. Following his speech Humphrey boarded a plane for his return to Washington where he attended a Senate committee meeting the following morning.
It was fitting that the first major showdown between Humphrey and Kennedy took place in Wisconsin, the state where the primary election took the selection of candidates from political bosses in the cigar-filled backrooms to the daylight of the ballot box and the hands of the people. In fact, primaries as a concept were first launched in Wisconsin in 1903 under the able leadership of congressman, governor, senator, and Progressive Party presidential candidate Robert LaFollette. Primaries quickly spread to other states, and today they are the preferred method of most states. In spite of their ability to keep elections close to the people and democratic, primaries are brutal, messy and expensive affairs that often turn friends to foes and rip political parties asunder while they are trying to conserve resources for the general election fight. For the ambitious who seek the presidency, however, the primary is a necessary evil. To gain the delegates needed to carry the convention, candidates must crisscross states in the hopes of convincing more and more people to support their cause.
In 1960 Wisconsin had 31 delegates up for grabs. Ten of those delegates would be determined by a winner-take-all statewide vote. Each of the state’s 10 congressional districts would choose 2 delegates. The choice of the final delegate was to be split by the party’s national committeeman and national committeewoman. With the stage set, both Kennedy and Humphrey poured all of their energy and a reported sum of $150,000 each into Wisconsin. Later reports showed that Humphrey spent in the neighborhood of $116,500, while spending by the Kennedy camp was substantially more than reported in the press.
As the campaign heated up in Wisconsin, Humphrey crisscrossed the state in a rented tour bus. Kennedy, his family, Harvard friends and war buddies visited towns, hamlets, and farm communities across the dairy state. As Election Day neared, Kennedy, confident of his chances against Humphrey, boasted to the press that if he lost in Wisconsin he was out of the race. Kennedy’s hope was that with defeat Humphrey would do the same and leave him the only candidate crossing the country collecting delegates for the convention in Los Angeles. Humphrey, however, would not return the boast and battled on to Election Day. As results came in the Kennedy camp was confident of victory, but they kept a watchful eye on four of Wisconsin’s ten voting districts. The second, third, ninth and tenth districts were predominantly Protestant and three of them were rural in nature. With victory in these non-Catholic areas Kennedy would put an end to the Catholic issue and would show that he could win as a national candidate in November. When the votes were finally counted, Kennedy defeated Humphrey by a total of 476,024 to 366,753. While Kennedy won 56% of the vote, had the highest vote total in Wisconsin history, and defeated Hubert Humphrey in his own backyard, many eyes focused on those Protestant voting districts that fell into the Humphrey column.
The prevailing view that Protestant America would not support a Catholic candidate continued to nag Kennedy and brought his entire campaign into doubt. In Wisconsin, the conventional wisdom forged in 1928 when Catholic presidential candidate Al Smith failed in his attempt to defeat Herbert Hoover was again supported by Kennedy’s defeat in the Protestant districts. Humphrey was emboldened by his stronger than expected showing which led him and his supporters to believe that, in spite of his campaign’s financial woes, the results in West Virginia would be different. Kennedy, denied the knock out punch in Wisconsin, moved his troops to West Virginia to battle Humphrey again. Several key Democrats and union leaders urged Humphrey to bow out, but those with their eyes on the White House urged him to go on with the hopes that the Kennedy machine could be derailed before it was too late to stop it.
With their families, friends, and dedicated volunteers Kennedy and Humphrey embarked on a campaign the likes the United States had never seen before. During the month of April both campaigns cruised the cities, made stops in county seats, entertained rural hamlets, and scoured every hollow and hillside of the state to reach every last voter. All the while, other Democratic candidates waited in the wings and schemed in hopes of a prolonged campaign that would result in a deadlocked convention that would open the door for their own presidential ambitions.
Unlike Wisconsin, the 25 delegates to the 1960 Democratic National Convention from West Virginia were not bound by the party to support the winner of the primary. A fact that led the press of West Virginia to refer derisively to the primary as nothing more than a popularity contest. For the candidates on the ballot, victory in West Virginia secured little in their quest for the nomination. At the national convention, delegates from the state could abandon the winner entirely and swing their support to his primary opponent or even to those who waited on the sidelines. In spite of the possibilities, Humphrey and Kennedy moved into West Virginia, both realizing the state was paramount to their success. For Humphrey a victory in West Virginia would revive his struggling campaign. For Kennedy the primary provided an opportunity not only to eliminate Humphrey, but also to prove that his presidential campaign could overcome the barriers that many believed would deliver the presidency to Nixon and the Republicans.
Members of the Kennedy team quickly made a night trip from Wisconsin following the election on the Caroline, a Convair turbo-prop plane purchased by Joe Kennedy and leased to his son’s campaign, four weeks to the day remained until the West Virginia Primary on May 10. As Kennedy’s brother Bobby, and his national campaign director Larry O’Brien, reached Clarksburg to assess the lay of the land and to meet with the northern chairmen at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel, they were faced with a new reality on the ground. Gallup polls from December had Kennedy winning West Virginia by a 70 to 30 margin, but as news of the campaign in Wisconsin reached the front pages of West Virginia’s newspapers, the polls were revealing that Kennedy’s lead had not only evaporated, but Humphrey had a 60 to 40 lead. After a meeting in Clarksburg, Bobby and O’Brien made their way to the Kanawha Hotel in Charleston to meet with their southern chairmen. In a frank and heated meeting it was revealed to the Kennedy team that the religion issue had become front and center in the campaign and with it the tide had turned. From Charleston, Bobby shared the drastic turn of events with Kennedy in Washington and then he made a quick return to Washington to strategize.
Senator Hubert Humphrey was the first candidate to arrive in the state touching down in Charleston at 1:00 a.m. on April 8 following a flight from Washington. After three hours of sleep, the Minnesota senator climbed aboard his campaign bus and started on a 77-mile trip that would include 16 stops and eventually end in Beckley. His first stop on the trip was to visit workers on their way to work at the Libbey-Owens glass factory in Kanawha City. He made a side trip up Cabin Creek before stopping for lunch in Montgomery. At Beckley, Humphrey spoke before the Memorial Building where he linked Vice President Nixon and the "veto, go-slow, no-go" Eisenhower Administration record. On Saturday, April 9th, Humphrey visited Hinton, Princeton, Madison, and Charleston where Humphrey flew to Washington for a television appearance on Sunday, April 10. He returned to Charleston on that same day to speak in place of his sister who was scheduled to speak at the Kanawha Valley Unitarian Fellowship. On Monday, April 11, Humphrey again hit the road with another trip through the southern coalfields with stops in Logan, Williamson, Welch and Bluefield, but on this trip he would not have the state to himself as Kennedy made his way to Parkersburg.
On April 11, Kennedy and his team flew into Parkersburg to have coffee and to attend a rally. Following the rally, Kennedy flew to Charleston where he spoke at Morris Harvey College (now the University of Charleston) to a large crowd. After lunch the senator drove to Huntington where he spoke from the hood of a car near the Marshall campus and then flew to Beckley to speak to a crowd of 500 in front of the Raleigh County Courthouse. Kennedy’s busy day ended in Beckley.
Kennedy’s presence in West Virginia marked a dramatic change in the tone of the campaign discourse. On April 11, recently elected Senator Robert C. Byrd announced in an interview that he was supporting Hubert Humphrey and encouraged others in West Virginia to do the same. Byrd stated that Humphrey was not his first choice for president, which was Lyndon Johnson, who he felt was best qualified, followed by Stuart Symington. He explained that Humphrey would be his choice for vice president, and that he felt Kennedy was too young and inexperienced to be president. He encouraged other supporters of Johnson, Symington and Adlai Stevenson to vote for Humphrey to derail Kennedy’s campaign. In speeches following Byrd’s pronouncement, Kennedy derided the organized campaign that was being carried out against him. Humphrey, in response to a reporter’s question about Kennedy’s charges that there was an organized Stop Kennedy campaign, quipped “Poor Little Jack!” and continued with, "I wish he would grow up and stop acting like a boy."
While the forces appeared to be lining up against Kennedy, he did have an opportunity to address what was becoming the major issue of the primary directly. After his April 11th, stop at Morris Harvey College, Kennedy responded to a question about his religion, saying “There is nothing in my religious faith that prevents me from executing my oath of office. If I thought there was I wouldn’t have taken it. If I thought there was I shouldn’t be a candidate for president. If I thought there was I shouldn’t be a senator. I shouldn’t have been a congressman and, to be frank, I shouldn’t have been taken into the service of the United States.” With that, the religion issue moved from the periphery of the Kennedy campaign to center stage with his next tour of the state a week later.
Beginning in Charleston on April 18, Muriel Humphrey, the candidate’s wife, and their two sons Bob and Douglas joined the campaign in West Virginia. The group began what the press called “the station wagon campaign” with stops at grocery stores, filling stations, garages, and country stores in Clendenin, Sutton, and Buckhannon before arriving in Clarksburg. As she spoke with voters she also passed out a recipe for beef soup that had become a part of the campaign in Wisconsin. In the evening Mrs. Humphrey and her sons arrived to meet with 300 well wishers who were attending the grand opening of Humphrey’s Clarksburg campaign headquarters. On the following day Mrs. Humphrey and her sons continued the tour with stops in Bridgeport, Grafton, and Morgantown.
When Kennedy returned to the state on April 18, he set out on a three-day tour of the Catholic portions of the state in north-central West Virginia and the state’s northern panhandle. Following his visits to Clarksburg and Fairmont, Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline toured Osage and Scotts Run before attending a reception at the Hotel Morgan in Morgantown. The Kennedys then boarded their campaign plane and headed to the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport where they landed at 10:41 p.m. On the following morning Kennedy traveled to Bethany. Responding directly to heckler in the crowd that asked him how he could reconcile being president with being Catholic, Kennedy said, “I don’t take orders from above,” and followed with “I am going to any church where I want, regardless of whether I am elected president or not!” Following his stop at Bethany, he continued on to West Liberty State College before returning to Wheeling where he made visits to the Sylvania Electric Products and the Hazel-Atlas plants before departing for Beckley. The final day of his tour started in Beckley with Kennedy making stops in Fayetteville, Mt. Hope, Gauley Bridge, Montgomery, Charleston, and ending the day at the Pritchard Hotel in Huntington.
The next day, April 21, Kennedy took the religion issue to a national audience when he spoke before the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington D.C. In a speech entitled, “The Religion Issue in American Politics.” Kennedy confronted all of the religion talk that was being reported about his campaign and discussed by political commentators. Kennedy chastised the press for obsessing about religion, religious bigotry and the suggested Catholic voting bloc instead of the other issues in the campaign. He expressed the hope that the press would stop referring to him as the “Catholic candidate.” In closing, he acknowledged that with this campaign it was his task to directly address the legitimate concerns of voters in the campaign, but he also offered that the task of the press was “to refute falsehood, to inform the ignorant, and to concentrate on the issues, the real issues, in this hour of the nation's peril.”
While Kennedy was busy addressing religion in northern West Virginia and Washington, His brothers Bobby and Ted, and former Congressman Franklin Roosevelt, Jr., were making stops on behalf of the campaign. Humphrey, also absent from the political scene in West Virginia, had his wife and sons, along with Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Karl Rolvaag. Also making stops for Humphrey were Congressmen Charles Porter of Oregon and Joseph Karth of Minnesota, Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, Minnesota Governor Orville Freeman, Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Philleo Nash and former ambassador to Denmark Eugenie Anderson. Humphrey’s sister Frances Howard also made visits on his behalf.
On April 25, Kennedy returned to the state and began a planned three-day swing through the coalfields of southern West Virginia. He began his visit in Huntington and headed for Wayne, Williamson, and Logan. An hour before Kennedy’s arrival in Wayne, David Brinkley of NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley Report set up cameras to record his speech for a national television audience. Kennedy spoke before a crowd of 250 onlookers in Wayne and took the time to shake the hands with all who had gathered. The following evening Brinkley’s footage ran on his television show and caused a stir with his description of Wayne and the Wayne Bridge that he called “the noisiest anywhere.” The story on the Huntley-Brinkley Report created a fervor when Governor Cecil Underwood in response to the story lashed out at Brinkley and his coverage in the local press. The governor also took his concerns to the Federal Communications Commission and appealed for the commission to take action. Chairman Frederick W. Ford responded that to him it appeared that Brinkley did not make a “sufficient effort to balance the unfavorable comment on West Virginia,” but that there was little to warrant any action by the FCC. Prior to Brinkley’s reports from Wayne and Mercer County, Republicans in West Virginia remained relatively quiet observers of the Democratic contest, but in a sudden change of tactics they demanded that Kennedy and Humphrey stop slandering the state. Others in the Republican camp invited both candidates to pack up and leave the state. For the residents of Wayne, good news came from the ordeal when the West Virginia State Road Commission began “previously scheduled maintenance” to replace the decking on the bridge on May 6.
On April 26, Kennedy visited Bluefield State College, Bramwell, Mullens and Princeton. During a visit with miners near Itmann, Kennedy almost faced a serious accident when he strayed too close to high voltage electric wires used to power coal cars. Luckily, for him 200 miners getting off their shift shouted a warning in time to prevent any harm. On the third day of his swing through the southern coal fields, Kennedy was forced to cut his trip short when he flew back to Washington to vote on a mine safety bill that was pending in the Senate.
Following Kennedy’s departure, the Kennedy campaign experienced a rare political gaff brought on by the weather. Because of the change of plans and bad weather that prevented his brother Ted from landing and attending the rally, the Kennedy bus arrived in Hinton without anyone to speak to the disappointed crowd of 600 people who had been waiting for Kennedy in the rain. The Bluefield Daily Telegraph described the pitiful scene and quoted a bystander who said the whole thing was a “Pretty darned awkward situation.” Kennedy promised a return visit to Hinton on May 4, but the folks in Hinton were let down again two days later when FDR, Jr. failed to appear at a rally held in the McCreery Hotel. In his absence, Senator Robert Byrd co-opted the event and urged the crowd to support his candidacy as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and to remind them that he supported Hubert Humphrey in the primary.
Humphrey returned to Charleston on Sunday night April 24 for more campaigning. On the following morning he left Charleston at 6:00 am. During the day his campaign bus made visits to Summersville, Craigsville, Webster Springs, Buckhannon, Philippi and Fairmont. At Summersville Humphrey said that Republicans had the "imagination of a crocodile" because they did not move power generation closer to the coal fields. (Charleston Daily Mail 19600425)
After the long trip Humphrey spoke before 200 people attending the $10-a-plate dinner held by the Marion County Democratic Committee at Fairmont. At the event, Humphrey called the Eisenhower Administration the most inept since the Grant Administration. He further railed against Elsenhower's veto of a coal research bill approved by Congress. Following the dinner, Humphrey admitted to a reporter's questions that his campaign funds were running low, but he assured them that he had enough to continue and, in an obvious slight toward Kennedy, he hoped that American politics would not be left exclusively to only the rich and "peddled like hotdogs on the street."
On the 26th, Humphrey traveled from Fairmont to Grafton and made his way east on U.S. Route 50, stopping in Kingwood, Terra Alta, Keyser, Romney, Berkeley Springs, Martinsburg, and Charles Town. The trip got off to a rocky start when Humphrey and his team started late because they did not take Daylight Savings Time into account. Humphrey, however, motored on and continued a theme that he shared with reporters in Fairmont the previous night. At Kingwood, he changed his message from his brutal assault on the Eisenhower Administration and Republicans to one in which he lamented to voters that he was like them and that it would be sad if America was only run by the rich and the "pets of political bosses."
By the time the Humphrey entourage reached Keyser they had lost another hour and were two hours behind the published schedule. Crowds that had assembled to meet the senator at the published time dwindled, and by the end of the day, only the diehards remained to greet him. Questions from reporters in Keyser received a heated response from Humphrey who obviously bristled under the line of questions and accusations that were uttered on the campaign trail. In response to one reporter's question about Jimmy Hoffa providing money for his campaign Humphrey replied that he was tired of suggestions that he was being financed by Hoffa, Symington, or Johnson. He went on to say that he was also tired of every one of his criticisms of Kennedy being painted as religious bigotry by his opponent and his campaign. Humphrey ended his day by returning to Washington where on the following day he joined Kennedy in the Senate to vote in support of mine safety legislation that was pending.
Following the vote in the Senate, Humphrey returned to West Virginia and spent the entire day of April 28 in Charleston campaigning. At noon he started to speak to a crowd on Capitol Street, but the public address system failed. Unfazed, Humphrey delivered the speech with a portable loud speaker and laughing asked the crowd, "I wondered if the Republicans arranged that." At 2:00 p.m. Humphrey spoke before a crowd at Morris Harvey and humor again smoothed over an awkward situation. When a student arose to ask a question, he erroneously addressed Humphrey as "Sen. Kennedy." Without missing a beat Humphrey told the crowd that it was okay because "100,000 people in Wisconsin made the same mistake." While humor marked the campaign trail that day Humphrey addressed serious issues. He criticized Republicans for their meager help to the poor and also said that Senator Kennedy was a good man, but that voters should look at his record and his experience. At Morris Harvey, he turned to foreign policy and Korea and told students that it was important to address poverty and hunger around the world because these conditions played into the hands of demagogues and Communists. On a television press conference that evening Humphrey continued his assault on Republicans, especially their programs for the poor.
As Election Day neared the niceties and the decorum of the campaign faded and the gloves came off. For the first time the candidates themselves began directly sparing with each other in the press. At a stop on Friday, April 29, Kennedy accused Humphrey of attacking his integrity and smearing his record. Humphrey, busy making stops in Huntington, Hamlin, Chapmanville, and Logan, first responded to Kennedy’s accusation in Huntington with wonder, but by the time he reached Logan, Humphrey's strategy was to plead innocence and then to question Kennedy's maturity. After hearing about Humphrey's statements, Bobby Kennedy speaking for his brother from the Charleston campaign office released a statement that said that Kennedy would not respond because he believed that "no Democrat is ever going to win in 1960 by imitating Vice President Richard Nixon." The Nixon comment was followed up with a statement that Humphrey could not win the nomination, the election or become president of the United States. With that, the chorus of Kennedy supporters began to echo that statement and others that questioned Humphrey’s chances for the nomination and his ability to defeat Nixon in the fall.
On the campaign trail, April 30 in Richwood proved to be one of the more colorful of the entire campaign. The day was marked in Richwood as Fishing Day, the opening of trout season on Summit Lake, and the community's Annual Ramp Dinner. The most awkward moment of the day occurred when FDR, Jr., and Humphrey encountered one another in the doorway of the Richwood Grade School, where the ramp dinner was being held.
The emerging nastiness of the campaign was displayed when campaign cars adorned with loud speakers, one following FDR, Jr., and representing Kennedy and another supporting Humphrey, shared words and tried to out squawk each other on Main Street. Order was restored when the town policeman arrived to settle the matter. By the end of the fracas, FDR, Jr., had had enough. To make matters worse for Roosevelt, he was forced to endure another encounter with the very same policeman that a few weeks earlier had made headlines across the country when Roosevelt tried to use his clout and family name to bypass a funeral and the Richwood policeman retorted that he didn't care if he was Abraham Lincoln he wasn't getting through.
Roosevelt was also sore at Richwood Leader editor Jim Comstock who leaked the funeral story to the Associated Press, and had written a satirical article for his spoof paper The West Virginia Hillbilly on religious prejudice called, "Pa Ain't Sellin' His Vote to No Catholic." While Roosevelt found the article particularly distasteful, a few reporters unfamiliar with The West Virginia Hillbilly and Comstock's widely-known sense of humor had reported the had quoted the article in out-of-state newspapers as proof of West Virginia's religious bigotry. Many papers later ran retractions, but other had not expressed the error. For the folks of Richwood and the surrounding area Fishing Day and the Annual Ramp Dinner proved to be banner events. In the next edition Comstock's Times Leader must have delighted subscribers when a picture of Humphrey's face as he had his first taste of ramps graced the pages of his newspaper.
The nastiness of the campaign also began to spread between parties. Republican Governor Cecil Underwood, still seething from David Brinkley's report from Wayne, stepped up his vocal criticism of Humphrey and Kennedy and their criticisms of Eisenhower and Republicans, especially when it related to West Virginia. In response, to Underwood's comments Kennedy suggested that he knew West Virginia better than the governor and that both Eisenhower and Underwood's Republican administration had neglected West Virginia for far to long.
While the campaign rhetoric was growing louder, Kennedy’s voice failed him. With only ten days remaining in the campaign, Kennedy was forced to begin what the press called his “whisper campaign.” Kennedy's day began at Madison where approximately 200 people gathered to meet him on the lawn of the Boone County Courthouse. At Eskdale on Cabin Creek, Kennedy was relegated to shaking hands while Matt Reese of Huntington spoke to the crowd. During his speech Reese reminded the crowd of Kennedy's heroic military service and further pointed out that Kennedy was the only veteran in the race. In the evening Kennedy administrative assistant, Ted Sorenson, spoke for Kennedy during his visit to the Kanawha Valley Unitarian Fellowship and rallies at the City Auditorium in Nitro and the junior high school at St. Albans. During the evening he was joined by his wife Jackie who assured the crowd that she was providing "gargles and pills" for her husband. Following the rallies the Kennedy camp moved on to Parkersburg late in the evening.
On May 1, Kennedy hit the campaign trail with a visit to the Ravenswood Community Center where he met with a crowd of 1,200 people. Kennedy was still ailing from a throat infection, had turned speaking duties over to his brother Ted. Following Ravenswood, Kennedy moved on to Parkersburg to meet with a rally before attending an ox roast at the Parkersburg City Park. Again Ted took over the main speaking duties at the event, but Kennedy in his brief address explained to the crowd that the main reason he joined the Navy and ran for Congress and was the same reason he was running for president. It was because he was "brought up to have a strong devotion to my country." Following the ox roast Kennedy and Ted moved on to Weirton to speak before the Order of Italian Sons and Daughters of America. Kennedy addressed charges lodged by Governor Underwood that Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa was going to influence West Virginia's election. Kennedy doubted that the people of West Virginia would be influenced by Hoffa who had announced his support of Humphrey. Following the stop in Weirton Kennedy took a day off from campaigning in the state.
Humphrey spent Sunday in Washington, D.C. to campaign for the primary held there on Tuesday, May 3. Returning to West Virginia on Monday, May 2, Humphrey touched down in Parkersburg at 11:00 am and made a whirlwind tour of Parkersburg. He made scheduled meetings with local labor leaders and the local media outlets before meeting voters in the downtown. Humphrey spoke in front of the Wood County Courthouse where he stated that economic issues were the most important to West Virginia voters, but he lamented in an obvious jab at Kennedy and the press that it was difficult to get the message out when all that the press was concerned with was personalities and not a candidate's stand on the issues. Later that evening Humphrey spoke before 2,000 people at the local VFW hall. During his address he called for the need to plan for the future instead of continuing on the path that had created the poor economy. Following his address and meeting with the attendees Humphrey headed for Huntington where he had a full slate of events planned for the following day.
Humphrey spent May 3 in Huntington. The day began early with a visit to a local factory where workers were on strike. Refusing to cross the picket line Humphrey moved on and visited another Huntington factory before returning to the Hotel Frederick to attend the Democratic Citizens Breakfast. Following the breakfast, Humphrey met with radio and television reporters at the hotel before attending a meeting with the local Kiwanis Club at noon. In the afternoon he hit the streets of Huntington before attending his largest gathering in West Virginia, Humphrey Day at Camden Park, where nearly 10,000 people took advantage of free rides at the park. Humphrey spoke to the crowd from the roof of an ice cream stand. Following the visit to the amusement park, Humphrey travelling to Charleston to take part in the debate with Kennedy.
Kennedy resumed his campaign on May 3 with an evening visit to Welch. At the McDowell County Courthouse Kennedy briefly spoke to an overcapacity crowd in the courtroom. The theme of his ten minute speech was that one of the biggest problems facing the next president was to figure out what to do with miners that had been replaced by automation in the coal industry. Following his brief words and a speech by his brother Ted, Kennedy stood in a doorway and shook the hand of everyone who came to hear him speak.
On May 4, Kennedy, his brother Ted, and FDR, Jr., began their day in Athens where the appeared at Concord College. Before a group of approximately 1,000 students and faculty members. Kennedy, in spite of his sore throat, roused the crowd when he told them that he was glad that Concord, Massachusetts, decided to name their town after the school. The crowd erupted again when he told the crowd that after traveling the state he truly understood the West Virginia motto that Mountaineers are Always Free.
Following the visit to Athens, Kennedy finally made good on a promise to visit Hinton. The special visit was scheduled to Hinton to make up for a series of missed visit by Kennedy, Ted, and FDR, Jr. Kennedy spoke to a crowd of 600 or 700 people from the back of a truck for only 6 minutes, when he was replaced by his brother who was then followed by FDR, Jr. Kennedy spoke about the economic issues of West Virginia and the neglect that had befallen the parks and the decline of the natural beauty and water quality of local rivers which hampered tourism efforts in the area. When Ted addressed the crowd, he assured them that if his brother won in West Virginia he would win the nomination and then West Virginians would have a good friend in the White House. When FDR, Jr., spoke to those who had gathered near the Summers County Courthouse, he was blunt and to the point. The former congressman told the crowd that Hubert Humphrey was merely a "straw man" for those candidates who chose to avoid the West Virginia primary because they knew that they would have been soundly defeated. He further told the crowd that they had a clear choice either to throw their vote away on a straw man or to support the next President of the United States. Following the speeches in Hinton, Kennedy moved on to Alderson where he briefly outlined his plan to attract industry to Greenbrier County before making his way to White Sulphur Springs.
Arriving there at 2:45 pm, Kennedy explained to the crowd that the election of 1960 was even more important than the election of 1932 that ushered in the New Deal. In an uncharacteristic move for Kennedy, he charged that Humphrey was distorting his record and "playing fast and loose with smears and innuendos." He went on to state that Humphrey just couldn't win the nomination. Kennedy was careful to provide a list Humphrey's good qualities, but he lamented that, in spite of those qualities, Humphrey just couldn't win the nomination. Following the speech Kennedy made his way to Charleston where he would meet Humphrey in a televised debate that evening.
The May 4, Kennedy-Humphrey Debate was a joint project between the Charleston Gazette and a network of television stations across West Virginia: WCHS-TV, Charleston; WHIS-TV, Bluefield; WTRF-TV, Wheeling; WBOY-TV, Clarksburg; and WTAP-TV, Parkersburg. The televised debate, the first of its kind in the United States, was broadcast nationally by the Mutual Broadcasting Company. Television stations in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh and the New York Times radio station also carried the debate live. The Canadian Broadcast Company also ran the debate on tape delay. The debate was held in Charleston at WCHS with news director Bill Ames as the moderator. W. E. "Ned" Chilton, III, assistant to the editor of the Charleston Gazette and Dale Schussler of WTRF joined Ames to ask the candidates questions submitted to the paper by West Virginia voters.
In his opening remarks, Humphrey focused on Republican policies and stated that Richard Nixon should not be the next president of the United States. Kennedy applauded the people of West Virginia and noted that the state needed help to develop economically. In his rebuttal Humphrey found little to disagree with but, instead, took the opportunity to tout his foreign policy experience, especially his meeting with Soviet leader Khrushchev and to state his concern for the United States stance in its global competition with the Soviet Union. For his rebuttal, Kennedy stated his concern for those who were forced to used public assistance and surplus, even producing a can of powdered eggs to demonstrate his point.
For many, especially the press, the debate was a disappointment because the sparing, jibs, criticisms and harsh rhetoric of campaign trail had been abandoned. Instead both candidates put forth their gentle side and saved their criticism for the Eisenhower Administration, Nixon and Republicans.
Humphrey and Kennedy mostly agreed on the issues, even at times sharing answering duties for questions posed by the panel that asked if congressional Democrats also bore some responsibility for the conditions in West Virginia. The most disagreeable part of the debate came near the end when a question was asked of Humphrey if he thought he could win the nomination. Humphrey responded that the election was far from over and that any Democrat who believed they had a lock on the convention was wrong. Kennedy responded by saying. "No one knows who is going to win but I would say that it may well be decided in West Virginia."
In closing, Kennedy pointed out to voters and the press that many people supporting Humphrey were not necessarily strong supporters, but were voting for Humphrey to stop Kennedy. He reiterated that voters could do with their votes as they wished, but he wanted to ensure that the point was made. For his closing words and in response Humphrey tried to differentiate himself from Kennedy. He said that he welcomed the support of West Virginia voters and that during the campaign he never complained about a gang up taking place. With that, the first televised presidential primary debate came to an end.
In the aftermath, Republicans complained to the television stations which aired the debate. They argued that according to the television fairness doctrine, a provision of the Federal Communications Commission that required equal time for televised political discussions and debates, Republicans should be given equal time. West Virginia national committeeman Walter S. Hallanan urged Republican National Chairman Senator Thruston Morton of Kentucky to write letters of protest to the stations and networks to allow a Republican rebuttal to the charges of Kennedy and Humphrey. From the Republican perspective, “There was no debate, no controversy, no difference of opinion. The so-called debate was a political fraud upon the network and the American people.” A defiant Hawthorne Battle, president of WCHS, denied Morton’s request for equal time and said that he was surprised by the senator’s attack on free speech. Battle further explained that he would have provided equal time to Republicans if any of them were on the ballot in the West Virginia primary. NBC and Westinghouse also denied Morton’s request, but the Mutual Broadcasting Company agreed to provide equal time.
Following the debate Humphrey left Charleston and headed to the state's northern panhandle. The following day, on May 5, Humphrey embarked on an eleven-hour tour. His day began in Weirton, followed by visits to Wellsburg, Bethany, downtown Wheeling, Wheeling College and finished in Morgantown with a speech at West Virginia University. In Weirton, Humphrey was presented with a steel key to the city by Mayor David T. Frew. Following the presentation Humphrey told the crowd that there needed to be federal standards for unemployment compensation and that his 10 Point Economic Plan included just such a provision. At Wellsburg Humphrey responded to a report that West Virginia Governor Cecil Underwood had announced that President Eisenhower urged federal agencies to address the problems in West Virginia. Humphrey answered the news with a blunt and boisterous question, "Mr. President, where have you been?" At Bethany, Humphrey was greeted by his most enthusiastic crowd of the day. Following his speech, the Bethany crowd called him back to the stage three times before he departed for Wheeling.
In Wheeling, Humphrey spoke to a crowd in front of the Wheeling Post Office Building where a reporter asked him about the charges waged by Republicans that his debate with Kennedy violated the fairness doctrine. Humphrey made light of the charges by saying that he would love to debate Vice President Nixon and that both he and Kennedy could defeat him. At Morgantown Humphrey spoke before students and faculty at West Virginia University. During his speech Humphrey suggested that power generation should be moved closer to the mines. With this approach the state could power the East coast and increase the prosperity of the state’s residents.
Meanwhile, Kennedy made his third visit to Beckley where, he criticized Governor Underwood and his recent calls for Kennedy and Humphrey to leave the state. Following his Beckley visit, Kennedy moved on to Collins High School for a second visit to the school. He delighted the students when he told them that he returned to the school because they had “the best cheering section of any high school in the United States”. Later in the day, Kennedy spoke to a crowd of 3,000 people at the Charleston Civic Center and made a visit to West Virginia State College. The West Virginia State visit was marked by a rare campaign planning mistake by the Kennedy team, when Kennedy, still hampered by a sore throat, was forced to address the audience with out the benefit of a public address system. He then rushed back to Charleston for a television appearance, but there was more confusion when Kennedy showed up at the wrong television station. At day’s end, Kennedy and Humphrey both left the state to return to Washington to vote in the Senate on the Area Redevelopment Bill, a bill that both candidates were touting as a cure for West Virginia’s economic woes.
While the West Virginia camapign was drawing attention across the nation, an article showing the darker side of politics in the state appeared in a Life magazine. The article entitled, “A Small State Takes the Limelight” was written by Life correspondent Donald Wilson. Wilson quoted local lawyer Dan Dahill, who told him that in Logan County any man could be elected for $5,000, except for the office of county sheriff that would require $40,000. Referring to Logan County as an example of the “Bible Belt” of West Virginia that made up one-third of the state’s Democrats, Wilson explained that along with vote buying at from $2 to $5 per vote, half-pints of moonshine or liquor were used to secure votes. He further explained that local candidates also used “slating” or the printing of lists of candidates to support to influence voters on Election Day. If these failed, Wilson told his readers that “lever brothers,” or local poll workers, could make the voting machines sing a favorable tune. The final part of the article addressed the question of religious bigotry in West Virginia. To make his point, Wilson interviewed Bob Dingess, the local political official at the Smokehouse Fork Precinct, who explained that he probably would not vote for Kennedy because he was Catholic. This view, Wilson said, was less prevalent in the younger generation, but still prominent of the older people in the community who had ties to the defunct Ku Klux Klan, like former Klan organizer and sitting Judge C. C. Chambers. While rumors about voting fraud and payoffs were swirling around the campaigns, tangible evidence or prosecutable proof, or a willingness to thoroughly investigate and prosecute vote-buying charges, never surfaced.
Both candidates returned to the campaign trail in West Virginia on Friday, May 6. Kennedy flew to Huntington and met with voters in Ceredo and Kenova before flying back to Charleston for a television appearance. The Kennedy camp also had to do some damage control over reports that FDR, Jr., had questioned Humphrey’s lack of military service during World War II. Reporters quickly questioned both campaigns. The first questions were to FDR, Jr., who was bluntly asked by reporters if he was calling Humphrey a “draft dodger.” Roosevelt responded that was not what he said and that he “deeply resented” the characterization of his words. He also encouraged the reporters to check the record. Kennedy quickly distanced himself from the charges and explained that he did not approve them and that he believed that it should not have been a part of the campaign. Humphrey, the experienced politician that he was, would not respond to the baiting of reporters eager for a juicy story. With that the story quickly died as neither candidate wanted to deal with the controversy with Election Day only a few days away.
Humphrey’s first stop after returning to West Virginia on May 6 was in Welch where he addressed economic issues. He was forced to abandon other scheduled stops in McDowell County because of an important dinner in Wyoming County at Pineville High School in honor of Judge R. D. Bailey, the first supporter in West Virginia to stump for Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. At the dinner, Humphrey railed on the extravagance of the Kennedy campaign in West Virginia. He followed those charges with glowing remarks about FDR. Following Humphrey, Robert Kennedy took to the podium and told the people in the audience that if the United States had the money to rebuild West Germany then it also had the money to rebuild West Virginia.The most intriguing question of the night was addressed to California Congressman James Roosevelt, the son of FDR, who was asked about his brother’s support of Kennedy in the West Virginia primary. An astute politician in his own right, the congressman explained that in the Roosevelt family every one was able to support whoever they wished.
As the rain fell on May 7, Kennedy made stops in Charleston and Elkview before giving a speech at the Jackson County Courthouse in Spencer. In a funny twist, the rain was so persistent that Kennedy purchased a hat for $2.02 from a local clerk ironically named Truman to cover his trade mark hair. A Boston Globe reporter purchased the hat from Kennedy. Following his speech in Spencer, Kennedy returned to Charleston for a flight to Nebraska for the presidential primary that was also scheduled for May 10.
While Kennedy was busy flying to Nebraska, one of his major rivals for the presidential nomination was heading for Clarksburg. While he did not appear on the ballot in West Virginia or other states, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson of Texas was the favorite of many in West Virginia. Johnson was the guest speaker at the state’s largest annual Democratic fundraiser, the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. The dinner had also been a stopping place for Kennedy, who had handled the same duties to great fanfare in 1958, and Stuart Symington another presidential contender who headlined the 1959 dinner.
When Johnson arrived in West Virginia he had the state’s two senators in tow. Robert Byrd was Johnson’s most outspoken and vocal supporter in the state. Jennings Randolph was more cautious than Byrd and less revealing of his true loyalties, but his role as toastmaster left little doubt of where he would stand if Johnson was the eventual nominee. FDR, Jr., attended the dinner on behalf of the Kennedy camp and told of his support for the Massachusetts senator. Humphrey, however, arrived to the dinner late, as he had been through most of his campaign to greet, the 500 people who had assembled.
Johnson’s visit to Clarksburg illustrated the larger scope of the presidential nomination process. While the eyes of the nation were watching the primary in West Virginia, the maneuvering of the candidates for the nomination was brought to light. Johnson’s visit interjected his presence in the state just prior to the election where many of his supporters hoped he would boost Humphrey in the state and derail Kennedy’s bid. While organizers of the event told the press that planning for the event began in 1959, few could deny the enormous shadow that Johnson cast on the primary in West Virginia. The impact was never more prominent than in the pages of the Clarksburg Exponent whose coverage of the event dominated the paper in their Election Day issue.
On Sunday, May 8, Kennedy returned to the state. He was scheduled to fly to Elkins with his wife Jacqueline, but inclement weather prevented the flight. Instead, Kennedy spoke to the crowd via telephone while FDR, Jr., was dispatched from Clarksburg to speak to the crowd at the Tygart Hotel. In a televised interview that evening on WCHS in Charleston, Kennedy’s tone was much calmer and kinder than the campaign rhetoric of previous days. He said that he hoped that he and Humphrey would remain friendly when the campaigns were over. He further stated that he regretted the recent statements of those campaigning for him and that he felt Americans were not interested in those types of attacks. He explained that he believed that the people wanted a president who would not engage in that type of discussion but, instead, could deal with “sensitive and difficult matters.” In closing, Kennedy stated that he expected to win the primary, but if he didn’t he had more primaries ahead to reach the nomination.
The Humphrey campaign, already running on fumes, planned a television call-in show on Sunday, May 8, to counter Kennedy’s widespread presence on television. Humphrey’s television budget was a pittance compared to the reported $34,000 that the Kennedy camp poured into television. News of his dwindling funds concerned the station management at WSAZ Channel 3 and they required that he pay in cash up front. Humphrey was forced to write a $750 check from his personal account to cover the costs. Journalist Theodore White, who saw the encounter between Humphrey and his wife Muriel, said it was a tragic scene because it appeared that the money for the show may have been earmarked for other purposes like his daughter’s wedding that was scheduled a week following the primary. If the funding problem wasn’t bad enough for Humphrey, the television show was a disaster. Without a screener for callers, the show that started with basic questions degenerated quickly as a Republican caller who was unhappy with the recent press coverage of West Virginia vehemently told Humphrey to get out of the state. The callers who followed rambled or went in directions that did not help Humphrey’s cause. In the end, the show did nothing to help Humphrey and may have done more harm than good.
In spite of his dismal television performance from the night before, Humphrey hit the campaign trail early. He spent his final day of the campaign visiting Kanawha and Putnam Counties. Humphrey continued to provide his quips and one-liners and displayed the vigor and positive energy that was his nature.
On the final full day of the West Virginia campaign, Kennedy began his day with stops in Cabell County and Huntington before flying to the Wood County Airport to spend the rest of the afternoon in Parkersburg. In late afternoon he returned to Charleston. During the day Kennedy promised via television that, if victorious, he would submit legislation within 60 days to help the people of West Virginia. Reporters on the campaign remarked that the usual Kennedy confidence was absent on this day and the senator seemed a little gloomy.
The newspapers of West Virginia issued a collective sigh of relief that Election Day had finally come. The Charleston Gazette displayed a cartoon on the front page that showed a West Virginia voter under the watchful eye of television cameras making his way to the polls with the thought that he would finally get his say. The primary had been intense. The spectacle had reached every corner of the state with the candidates, their families and friends, and supporters stopping by and pushing their man in the race. Reporters from newspapers, radio and television had put West Virginia on a national stage “warts and all.” All that was left was to tally the votes and announce the winner.
On May 10, Election Day, Kennedy and Humphrey both left West Virginia in the early morning for Washington to speak to the same Democratic woman’s group. Following his speech Humphrey returned to Charleston. While Kennedy, his family, FDR, Jr., and his campaign workers told crowd after crowd of their utmost confidence on Election Day, doubts remained. The campaign in West Virginia had been brutal, and the Kennedy camp had poured untold resources and had spent unknown sums; however, the question remained, “would it have been enough.” Unsure of success, Kennedy decided to remain in Washington to avoid the spectacle that he would be forced to endure following a defeat.
With Kennedy in Washington, his brother Bobby was left to watch the vote totals roll in at the Kanawha Hotel. John, meanwhile, joined his wife and a couple of friends for dinner and a movie. Humphrey waited at the Ruffner Hotel. The polls closed at 8:00 pm and the first results trickled in around 9:00 pm. By 10:00 pm, the rout was on statewide. Humphrey, realizing defeat, began to contact his supporters and contributors across the country to announce the grim news.
John and Jackie Kennedy returned from their movie at 11:30 pm to find a note from the maid to call Charleston. Kennedy was delighted to hear from Bobby that the victory was going to be a landside. He popped the cork on a bottle of champagne, called his father in Massachusetts and headed for the airport to fly to Charleston to claim victory.
Word of Humphrey’s concession reached the Kennedy headquarters at 1:00 am. Bobby Kennedy made a personal call on Humphrey and escorted him in the rain to his campaign headquarters on Capitol Street for his concession speech. In a tearful scene Humphrey announced that he was no longer a candidate for the Democratic nomination. Following his brief words, Humphrey made his way with Bobby to the Kanawha Hotel to await the arrival of the victor.
By 3:00 am, Kennedy had made his way to Charleston. In his speech, he said that he was indebted to the people of West Virginia. He later quipped that they had finally put an end to the religious question. In a prepared passage he reiterated his commitment to the people of West Virginia by saying, “I want to pledge again that I will not forget the people of West Virginia nor will I forget what I have seen and learned here. On my television broadcast last night, I said that if elected President I would immediately inaugurate a program of help for West Virginia. This I will do.”
For Humphrey his presidential hopes in 1960 had ended in West Virginia. As reporters asked who he would support following his defeat, Humphrey refused to show his hand. Members of his campaign, still stinging from the nastiness of the past few weeks, told reporters that they would most likely support Adlai Stevenson for the nomination. The final insult to the Humphrey campaign in West Virginia was a parking ticket on the Humphrey tour bus, placed by a local policeman who had overlooked the illegally parked bus during the campaign, but now saw no reason to look the other way.
In the official results Kennedy defeated Humphrey by a margin of 236,510 to 152,187. The 60.8 percent to 39.2 percent victory represented a landslide for Kennedy. He won 50 of the state’s 55 counties. Only Cabell, Doddridge, Hampshire, Lincoln and Putnam counties gave Humphrey modest victories. In spite of the lopsided total, Humphrey had a strong showing in most counties. Even with the strong showing in West Virginia, Kennedy’s battle for the nomination was far from over. While Humphrey was removed as serious contender, Lyndon Johnson and Adlai Stevenson were names still being considered by many Democrats. Kennedy’s victory in West Virginia did, however, undermine the candidacy of Senator Stuart Symington. In West Virginia Kennedy demonstrated his ability to woo voters that Symington was counting on for support.
John Kennedy had made strong showings in primaries across the country, but even as delegates made their way to Los Angeles for the Democratic National Convention in 1960, his nomination was still in doubt. Even West Virginia’s delegates were undecided, in spite of Kennedy’s stunning victory in May. The delegates from West Virginia were not bound to support the winner of the primary and many of them were in fact actively working for other candidates. The most notable of these delegates was Senator Robert Byrd who was still strongly entrenched in the Johnson camp, but when a Charleston Gazette reporter polled the delegation in Los Angeles there was many who were cool to the Johnson nomination because they did not believe he could beat Nixon. Others in the delegation were still loyal to Adlai Stevenson.
As the convention got underway Byrd remained staunch in his support of Lyndon Johnson. When interviewed he said that the nomination was far from being Kennedy’s. He further stated that he wouldn’t join the Kennedy bandwagon and that it would have to run him over. When the reporter asked him about his support of Johnson, Byrd responded that there were only three things that would prevent him from doing so: “One would be for Sen. Johnson to withdraw as a candidate, which I’m sure he will not do. Another is that if Sen. Johnson should have a heart attack. The third is that if I should have a heart attack.”
As the delegates filled the convention hall, all knew that the hopes of Stevenson, Johnson and Symington depended on Kennedy not receiving the nomination on the first ballot. As the voting began the Kennedy camp knew it took 761 delegates to receive the nomination. If he did not get it on the first vote, many state delegations would be free to abandon him and vote for another choice. As the state roll call began, Alabama gave Johnson 20 delegates and Kennedy 3. At Washington, Kennedy had reached 710 delegates. The West Virginia delegation voted 15 for Kennedy, 5 ½ for Johnson, 3 for Adlai Stevenson, and 1 ½ for Stuart Symington. Wisconsin made Kennedy’s total 748. Wyoming finally ended the tension by casting all 15 of its votes for Kennedy. The final total had Kennedy with 806 votes; Johnson 409; Symington 86; Stevenson 79 1/2; and all others 140 ½.
The next big decision was for Kennedy to choose a running mate. In a surprise to many, Kennedy announced that Lyndon Johnson would be his Vice Presidential choice. Even more surprising for reporters in West Virginia was Kennedy’s swift moves to unite the party. The shocker for the cynics of the newsroom was the invitation sent from Kennedy to Senator Robert C. Byrd to join him on the stage as he formally received the nomination. Byrd had been the most vocal and outspoken of anyone in West Virginia in his attempts to derail the Kennedy nomination. Byrd, who had already left Los Angeles when word came of Kennedy’s invitation, was 135 miles away, expressed regret for missing the occasion, but vowed to support Kennedy in his efforts to become the 35th president of the United States. With that the Democratic Party of West Virginia mended the wounds that were opened by the primary and convention battles and joined together to defeat Nixon in the fall.
Within two weeks Republicans opened their national convention in Chicago. With little surprise the party chose Vice President Richard Nixon to head the ticket. For West Virginia a great honor was given to Republican Governor and U. S. Senate candidate Cecil Underwood when he was chosen to be a keynote speaker during the convention. Underwood used his speech to criticize Democratic policies and especially Kennedy and Humphrey and their criticism of West Virginia. However, Underwood was disturbed when Nixon urged him to cut the punch line of his speech that was aimed at Kennedy’s choice of his former rival Johnson because Nixon, himself, was considering his formal rival New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to the ticket to broaden his appeal. Nixon, however, bypassed Rockefeller and, instead, chose former Massachusetts Senator and United Nations ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., to join the ticket.
With the nominees picked, both political parties geared up for a highly competitive general election. The campaign that followed was very different from those that came before it and it changed the face of American elections.
Following the conventions both candidates and their running mates crossed the country trying to secure voters. In West Virginia the campaign duties were mostly left to surrogates except for two high profile visits by Kennedy and Nixon. On September 19, Kennedy returned to West Virginia to attend a day-long conference dedicated to employment. The conference was headlined by key officials from 10 states to address the economies of depressed areas and ways to create new jobs and new growth. Kennedy’s address at the closing of the conference placed the blame of the country’s economic woes directly on Republicans. He further mocked and criticized Nixon who he said was touting the success of an American economy that left many people suffering. Kennedy ended his speech with the idea that for American to go forward and for freedom to flourish everyone need to benefit economically.
Not to be outdone, Nixon and the Republicans gathered in Charleston the day following the first televised Kennedy-Nixon debate. During his speech Nixon took the opportunity to address recent statements made by Kennedy. The vice president said that many of Kennedy’s statements had been used by foreign communist newspapers to criticize the United States. In the later half of the speech Nixon urged Kennedy to move above partisan politics and glib promises. Finally he urged voters to support the Republican ticket and Cecil Underwood in his campaign for the Senate.
Kennedy received a huge boost to his campaign when former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt made a campaign swing through West Virginia in the days leading up to the campaign. Mrs. Roosevelt landed in Bluefield and made several stops on her way to Charleston where she met with reporters and gave several speeches in support of Kennedy. Mrs. Roosevelt had been a staunch supporter of Adlai Stevenson in the past few elections and even held pat in the current, but following the nomination of Kennedy she publicly supported Kennedy and had some criticism for Nixon.
On the same day that the former First Lady was in Charleston, Lyndon Johnson made a visit to Huntington. Hampered by bad weather and forced to move into the circuit court room of the Cabell County Courthouse, Johnson warned the assembled crowd of 1,100 that the Republicans had become desperate and that they would most likely be issuing a “sneak punch” in the days leading up to the election. He also told the crowd that Republicans were using New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to appeal to northern voters, while the conservative Republican Senator Barry Goldwater in the Southwest and they both were telling voters very different stories. He ended his speech by reminding West Virginians that they had a friend in John Kennedy and that he always felt like he was West Virginia’s third senator.
The frantic nature of the campaign drew silent as voters across the country made their way to the polls. The election proved to be one of the closest elections in United States History. In the end Kennedy was able to secure enough votes in the Electoral College to defeat Nixon. Voters across the country were forced to go to bed on Election Night without a clear winner. In the early hours of the next morning the candidates were notified that Kennedy had won. Nixon, however, made the Kennedys wait through out the morning for his concession speech. When time came for the concession it was not Nixon who announced his concession, but instead his press secretary Herb Klein.
West Virginia again gave Kennedy a boost when state voters gave him 52.7 percent of the vote. In the few years that he was in office, Kennedy was true to his promise made on the eve of the West Virginia primary when he said that he would not forget the debt he owed to the state. During his administration’s thousand days, and beyond, millions of dollars were funneled into West Virginia for roads, federal projects, and other programs that made a huge impact.
Kennedy always spoke of the honor and dedication to country that was the goal of his life’s work. When he spoke of West Virginia, he always noted the abundance of those traits in the people that called the state home. He reveled in the state motto that “mountaineers are always free,” and that the people of the state were more than willing to more than their fair share to protect the freedom of the entire nation. Kennedy words echoed what West Virginians always knew about themselves, but few from beyond the state’s jagged borders understood. The pinnacle of the relationship between Kennedy and the state occurred during the state’s centennial celebration in June 1963, when from the steps of the state capitol in front of a crowded lawn, the president, noting the rainy weather, said words that still ring in the ears of those present that day. He said that, “The sun doesn’t always shine in West Virginia, but the people do.”
Tragically, a few months following the West Virginia Centennial Celebration, news echoed across the country first that Kennedy had been shot, and later that he died. For many in West Virginia who turned out to meet Kennedy and who saw him speak from the Capitol steps only months before, it was like they had lost not only a good friend to West Virginia, but a member of their immediate family. The loss was immense and devastating. In the years that have passed the Kennedy legacy has remained. For many West Virginians his memory continues to lives on.
Gary A. Donaldson, The First Modern Campaign: Kennedy, Nixon, and the Election of 1960. Lanham, Maryland: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, 2007.
Kenneth S. Davis, A Prophet in His Own Country: The Triumphs and Defeats of Adlai E. Stevenson. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1957.
Kenneth S. Davis, The Politics of Honor: A Biography of Adlai E. Stevenson. New York: G. P. Putnam’s and Son, 1967.
Daniel B. Fleming, Kennedy Vs. Humphrey, West Virginia, 1960: The Pivotal Battle for the Democratic Presidential Nomination. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1992.
Herbert J. Muller, Adlai Stevenson: A Study in Values. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1967.
David Pietrusza, 1960 - LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon: The Epic Campaign that Forged Three Presidencies. New York: Union Square Press, 2008.
Theodore H. White, The Making of the President 1960. New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1961.
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