Kennedy “Opens” Here
Religion Said Not Top Issue
By Thomas F. Stafford
March 17, 1960
Kennedy “Opens” Here
Religion Said Not Top Issue
By Thomas F. Stafford
Sen. John F. Kennedy said here Wednesday that he regarded the religious issue a matter of interest in this year’s election campaign but believed West Virginia voters were more concerned about how he stands on “economic issues and how effective I would be . . . as president.”
Kennedy’s comment came at a press conference at the Kanawha Hotel, where he exposed himself to questioning for a half hour before opening his West Virginia campaign headquarters. He is running in the Democratic primary for president, with Sen. Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota his only opponent.
The Massachusetts senator, first Catholic since 1928 Democratic presidential nominee Al Smith to become a serious contender for the presidency, declared:
“This religious factor I suppose is a matter of certain discussion in every state that we run in. But my judgment has been that there are so many serious issues in front of the people of the United States and West Virginia . . . that I am sure they are as interested as I am in what’s going to happen to this country and state. . .”
The 42-year-old Kennedy reaffirmed his support of the separation of church and state. “I’ve stated my views on that point at great length,” he remarked, “and I’m glad to do it again.”
Also, he reiterated his support of Article 6 of the Constitution, which says there shall be no religious test for federal office.
Arriving an hour late from Washington for the opening of his headquarters here, Kennedy was met at the hotel by a band and large crowd of well-wishers. Even mothers and fathers with babies in their arms were there to greet the smiling young senator.
He called off a scheduled visit to supermarkets and plant entrances after bad weather between Charleston and Washington delayed him. Following a reception at the Kanawha and conferences with his West Virginia organizers, he left for Madison, Wis. He also is entered in the Wisconsin primary against Humphrey.
He declined tp [sic] predict victory for himself in Wisconsin. His only comment in answer to a newsman’s question on the subject was, “I’m hopeful of winning.”
He was not surprised to find no state Democratic candidates on hand for his brief visit to Charleston. He said he could understand why they might not want to get involved in the presidential primary.
The same holds true for party leaders, he said. “I think that probably a good many of the leaders will maintain a position of neutrality during the primary.”
State Sen. Ward Wylie’s acceptance of the task of running his campaign in West Virginia brought words of praise from Kennedy at this point. “I think we are very fortunate in having him,” he said. “He seems to be carrying his burdens quite lightly.”
Turning at this point to Missouri Sen. Stuart Symington, who will appear at a Democratic Women’s Club conference in Charleston Saturday, a newsman asked Kennedy if he would like him as an opponent in the May 10 primary. “I wish he had run,” Kennedy replied.
“I wish he had also run in Indiana, Nebraska, Wisconsin and New Hampshire,” he continued. “These primaries—you just can’t dismiss them.
“There hasn’t been a president elected in this century in either party who has not run in one or more primaries. And I don’t think it will be true again.”
He called attention to the fact that Vice President Nixon—who is unchallenged in the Republican Party, has the support of President Eisenhower and is obviously the nominee is running in five or six primaries.
“This is because,” Kennedy explained, “that he does not want to be picked by convention arrangement without having the endorsement of the members of his party. And I think that should be true of any of the Democrats who are running.”
He was asked if he thought there was more than jest in Sen. Symington’s remark at last Saturday’s gridiron dinner in Washington that he and Senator Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson were “running with Humphrey in West Virginia.” His retort was to the point. He said:
“They said they were going to run as long as there was a breath of air in the body of Hubert Humphrey.”
Humphrey, he said, isn’t a party to this scheme. “He’s not interested in running around the country nor am I merely to see if somebody else can be the presidential nominee.”
He evinced confidence that the West Virginia voters wouldn’t favor such “ganging up” as Symington and Johnson are alleged to be planning against him.
“It seems to me that the West Virginia voters will make a choice between Sen. Humphrey and myself,” he added. “We’ve come down here. We’re running. We’re asking their support.
“I don’t think anybody in West Virginia is going to be very interested in taking part in a stock movement on one side or the other merely because they support a candidate who isn’t willing to come here and run himself. That’s too easy. I don’t think anybody wants to be associated with that.”
In discussing campaign issues, he said. “I think the issues involved in rebuilding and developing the economy of West Virginia are issues on which the Democratic Party must take a firm stand.
“The minimum wage bill which I co-sponsored in the Senate; the area redevelopment bill, which has passed the Senate three times and which I co-sponsored on each occasion and floor managed on one occasion; coal research and mine safety—these are all major issues in this election. They are particularly important to you in West Virginia.”
At the national level he said the missile gap between the U.S. and Russia is a major issue, as is the Eisenhower Administration’s failure to develop a really effective policy on disarmament.
President Eisenhower’s Wednesday morning proposal that a by-racial [sic] conference be called to seek better understanding in the South was made after Kennedy left Washington. As a result, he said he was unprepared to discuss it fully, but added that the idea seemed to have merit.
In answer to a point-blank question, he said he thought President Eisenhower should exert stronger executive leadership on the integration problem.
With respect to his chances of winning the Democrat presidential nomination at the Los Angeles convention in July, he said:
“A good deal will depend on Wisconsin and after that West Virginia. If I do well in these primaries, I think I will be in a very strong position at Los Angeles.”
Although the West Virginia primary is only a popularity con[t]est, since the outcome is not binding on convention delegates, Kennedy said he thought the Democratic Party was bound to take notice of the candidate who showed the most strength in such contests. He is entered in seven primaries, part of them binding.
Asked whether he would attend a Democratic fund-raising dinner at Clarksburg May 8 (three days before the primary), he said he wasn’t certain whether he had been invited. Sen. Johnson and Sen. Humphrey already have accepted.
“I’d be glad to be there,” he added. “I’d certainly make every effort I could to be there if I were asked. . .”
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