Kennedy Win Gives His Drive Impetus
By Harry G. Hoffmann
May 12, 1960
Editor of The Gazette
Kennedy Win Gives His Drive Impetus
By Harry G. Hoffmann
Sen. John F. Kennedy’s devastating victory in West Virginia’s preferential primary echoed out of the hills Wednesday to bring new significance to his drive for the Democratic presidential nomination.
His overwhelming vote in this predominately Protestant state brought at least a reappraisal of his strength at the professional level, where he had been held at arm’s length because of doubts that a Roman Catholic could be elected to the White House.
There was no immediate concession that the West Virginia sweep assured him the nomination at next July’s Democratic convention in Los Angeles. But it was clear that such thoughts were going through a lot of minds.
Most significant was the indication that this primary victory—coming in a state that has only 25 uncommitted delegate votes near the bottom of the roll call—will have a strong influence on New York’s 114-vote delegation.
The reaction covered a wide range. Ohio’s Gov. DiSalle considered this “more significant that the vote indicates” and said “Kennedy is on his way”.
Pennsylvania’s Gov. Lawrence, who has shied away from Kennedy, wouldn’t warm up beyond saying Kennedy had scored a great victory. He added, however, that the result would not alter the position of neutrality of the Pennsylvania delegates to the convention.
In between there were varying opinions, including Adlai Stevenson’s statement in Chicago that the West Virginia victory reflected Kennedy’s “broad appeal and provided a strong endorsement of his views and record”.
But no one would deny that Kennedy had gained tremendously in political stature and had enhanced his chances of capturing the Democratic nomination.
The size of his West Virginia victory, which caused Minnesota Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey to withdraw from the presidential race, was more than impressive.
With all but 135 of the state’s 2,750 precincts tabulated, Kennedy’s majority was close to 80,000 in a state that most pollsters said he would lose.
The vote at that point was: Kennedy 219,246; Humphrey 141,941.
So complete was the Kennedy sweep that he carried 47 of the state’s 55 counties, and the six counties won by Humphrey were very close margins. Humphrey made his strongest showing in Cabell County, where he carried by 1,067.
The other counties which Humphrey won were Putnam by 427 votes, Lincoln by 394 votes, Hampshire by 351 votes, Morgan by 43 votes, and Gilmer by 33 votes. In sparsely populated Calhoun county, where only two of 17 precincts were included in the tabulation, Humphrey was leading by 12 votes.
A big question being asked in the aftermath of the presidential preferential primary was “what happened?” This was especially true in light of the predominant opinion that Humphrey would win.
Most significant seemed to be a miscalculation on the so-called importance of the “Protestant vote” or the “anti-Catholic vote.”
Because West Virginia is no more than five per cent Catholic, there was an overriding opinion that Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, would fare badly in this state.
Those who came in from outside the state apparently assumed that (1) West Virginia is a southern state, which it isn’t, and (2) that Protestants, especially mountaineer fundamentalists, would not vote for a Catholic.
There was an inclination to mistake honest inquiry for bigotry on the religious question. But when Kennedy was asked questions about his religion and his views on the constitutional provision of separation of church and state, he answered them calmly and forthrightly—and apparently to the satisfaction of his questioners.
Because of this, his overwhelming victory in the largely Protestant state provides the greatest significance in his bid for the nomination. It removes, or at least minimizes, the contention that a Catholic cannot be elected President.
Another factor in Kennedy’s victory was apparent resentment toward Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s attempt to marshal supporters of Kennedy’s opponents—Lyndon Johnson and Stuart Symington—for a “Stop Kennedy” vote for Humphrey.
This theory is given substance by the fact that Kennedy carried Byrd’s home county of Raleigh by a vote of nearly two to one. Also, Byrd hails from Sophia in Raleigh County, and in the Sophia precinct Kennedy won over Humphrey, 237 to 135.
On top of this, twin brothers who are described as protégés of Byrd were defeated in the Raleigh County primary. Ted Stacy failed to win nomination to the House of Delegates, and Fred Stacy was defeated for Board of Education.
Byrd himself was not a contender in the primary, since his Senate term runs through 1964.
Sen. Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn) left Charleston at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, his presidential aspirations abandoned after Tuesday’s primary loss to Sen. John F. Kennedy (D-Mass).
Three hours later, a traffic policeman left a red parking ticket on the Humphrey sound truck parked in front of a Charleston hotel. During campaigning of the past three weeks, police had ignored the truck being illegally parked in the same spot.
Slab Fork – This Raleigh County mining community gained notoriety April 15 when syndicated columnist Joseph Alsop found a great deal of “un-American prejudice” against Sen. John F. Kennedy here.
In a column written after visiting Slab Fork Alsop conclude Sen. Hubert Humphrey could win the West Virginia presidential primary only for “very ugly reasons.”
Tuesday, Slab Fork voted 100 to 36 for Kennedy.
Kennedy Genuinely Surprised
By Don Marsh
Was Sen. Kennedy genuinely surprised by his easy victory over Sen. Humphrey?
There will be arguments about this as there will be about many aspects of the West Virginia presidential primary but here’s one vote that says he was.
Sen. Kennedy is human. He read the stories, too. His poll takers took samplings. They all said he would lose.
He believed them. He would have been an egomaniac if he hand’t [sic]. In addition it was good strategy to be an underdog. For both reasons he said repeatedly that he’d be content if he got 40 per cent of the vote.
Whether he really thought he would do so badly is something else. Forty per cent represented the absolute minimum. It was something like having a previously prepared position to retreat to. He couldn’t do worse and stay in national contention. If he did better, he could claim victory.
In his more private discussions, he said 45 per cent was about the best he could hope for.
He discussed it at length last Saturday on a bus rocking back to Charleston after a speech in Spencer.
It was one of the rare times during the campaign he was nearly alone. Sen. Lyndon Johnson, another presidential possibility, was speaking at Clarksburg and most of the out-of-town press had gone to hear him.
There were only six others on the bus. Kennedy sat in a front seat, drumming on a window with his right hand and frowning as he spoke.
“I just don’t know,” he said. “This religious business is awfully important. I don’t see how we can do it.
“Are you sure, Jack?” a man from his hometown paper, the Boston Globe, asked. “I’ve been doing some polling and you look pretty good to me.
“Yea, but have you been polling with me or have you been out by yourself? You can’t tell anything if you poll where I’m making a speech. Everybody get enthusiastic about the music or being part of a crowd and the results don’t mean a thing.
“Both places. I’ve been asking both places. I went down to what-you-call it, is it Madison or is it Boone, and you won. I don’t see what makes it so bad. You look pretty good to me.
“I agree, senator,” a man from The Gazette said. “My parents live in Logan and they say they’re going to vote for you and that most of the people they know are, too. My mother says she’s only heard religion mentioned once. She’s a Protestant.
“I’m glad you said that she was a Protestant,” Kennedy smiled. “You know people come up to me and say ‘hello, Mr. President’ or they tell me how far ahead I am and then I ask them their name and they say Murphy, or O’Donegan or Kelly and I have to think they’re a little bit prejudiced for us.
“But I just don’t see how we can do it. We took a poll in Charleston last week and we did get more than he did but it was very close and there was a big uncommitted factor.
“That upset us some. It was discouraging actually. We should have done much better in a city, and this was Charleston.”
Kennedy conceded in the last few days that he thought his position was growing stronger. But he was still pessimistic.
The only hopeful note he injected during the entire campaign came at his final speech Monday at Parkersburg. “I think we may surprise some of the experts tomorrow,” he said.
Later in his talk, he said he was making his last speech of the year in West Virginia. These were new themes for Kennedy and he was questioned about them.
“Oh, come on now,” he said to reporters. “Here it is the day before election and the AP is saying 45 per cent for us. That’s pretty somber. I haven’t changed my mind but you’ve got to be a little more hopeful the day before election.”
“What about this being your last speech in West Virginia this year? Are you giving up?
“Did I say that? It was a slip of the tongue if I did. I meant the last speech before the primary. Now don’t try to get me to write my own obituary. I may have to do it Wednesday but don’t try to make me do it today.”
There was another good piece of evidence that Kennedy doubted if he would win. Both he and Humphrey flew to Washington Tuesday morning to speak at a convention of Democratic women.
Humphrey flew back in the afternoon. Kennedy didn’t. At first his headquarters workers said he should be back any time. They grew progressively more vague until it reached the point where he was coming back “if anything significant happens.”
One of them, perhaps annoyed by persistent demands for the time when he would arrive, perhaps only joking, said it made no difference. “If we lose, he can issue a statement as easily from there as here,” he said.
But it didn’t turn out that way as the nation knows today, and Kennedy returned to hold a victorious press conference.
As he struggled through a crowd of well wishers, The Gazette man caught his attention for a minute and asked how he rated as a predictor.
He looked vague for a second and then he grinned. “Well,” he said, “you’re [sic] mother in Logan must have known what she was talking about.”
Pros Begin Picking At Political Carcass
By George Lawless
Tuesday was the feast.
And on Wednesday sleep-dulled professionals began picking over the political carcass of West Virginia’s nationally served primary election.
Sen. John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s sparkling ballot blitz in the Democratic race against Sen. Hubert Humphrey was the top conversational tid-bit.
“I think that the overwhelming vote in the primary for Kennedy was at least partially a protest vote,” said Republican Gov. Cecil Underwood. Referring to unfavorable news stories depicting the state as a hot-bed of religious prejudice against Roman Catholicism, Underwood opined that “West Virginians were voting to show the rest of the world that we’re not what we were pictured.”
Sen. Jennings Randolph (D-WVa), appearing at a civic banquet in Parkersburg, commented: “The West Virginia results will strengthen Senator Kennedy in his vigorous effort to secure the Democratic nomination for President.”
Walter S. Hallanan, Republican national committeeman, observed that “Kennedy’s endorsement by such an overwhelming vote will undoubtedly give great stimulation to his candidacy . . .”
Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WVa), reached Wednesday night at his Capitol Hill office, said “I have no comments to make. No comment at all.” Byrd, an avowed supporter of Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Tex.) in his bid for the Democratic convention nod, had favored Humphrey in the primary in an alleged “stop-Kennedy” move. Results in Byrd’s home district of Raleigh County showed Kennedy polling almost twice as many votes as Humphrey, including a substantial margin in Byrd’s own Pct. No. 26 at Crab Orchard.
While pollsters and reporters busied themselves with face-saving explanations of what happened, the men who know politics best looked warily ahead to November. Political figures and party leaders contacted by The Gazette perferred [sic] to discuss political outlook at the state and county level. In this respect, Republicans exuded confidence, while Democratic leaders were either guarded in their comments or noncommittal.
State Democratic Chairman Hulett C. Smith, who lost to Atty. Gen. W. W. Barron in a bitter three-way race for the gubernatorial nomination, said:
“It is pretty hard for me to separate my feelings as a candidate and as party chairman. The Democrats have selected their nominee, and everyone must unite to elect the Democratic ticket in November.”
Smith expressed thanks to his supporters, adding: “I’m confident that they will continue to support the Democratic Party.”
Underwood called the Republican lineup of candidates for the November election “the strongest possible ticket.” He hailed the selection of Harold E. Neely as the GOP standard-bearer in the governor’s race, and enthusiastically state that “we will win in November through united party effort and the endorsement of 100,000 independent Democrats.”
Randolph, choosing his words carefully, said:
“I think the Democratic Party in this state will present an experienced, capable and well-balanced ticket which will have a strong appeal to the voters in the November election.” The senior senator from West Virginia will seek reelection this fall against Underwood.
Hallanan, who along with the Governor gave his personal endorsement to Neely in his successful primary race against former Sen. Chapman Revercomb, enthusiastically lauded the GOP choice.
“The decisive victory of Harold Neely was not only a personal tribute to him and his public record, but it was unmistakeably [sic] an indorsement [sic] of the Underwood state administration. . . The Republican Party came out of the primary in excellent condition with complete unity . . .”
On the county level, Luther Carson, chairman of the Kanawha County Democratic County Executive Committee, appeared pleased with the election outcome, but declined to comment. GOP Chairman Robert C. Cooksey said “I think it was a pretty good primary. You lose some and you win some. . . a person is always satisfied with the ones he wins.”
Charleston’s Mayor John A. Shanklin added that “a good spirited primary is beneficial for the party if bitterness is not generated.” He ventured that Neely “will be a formidable candidate in November, and I predict he will be the next governor of West Virginia.”
John E. Amos, Democratic national committeeman for West Virginia, said he did not want to make any statement on the primary results. “I haven’t had an opportunity to study the returns too closely,” he explained.
Nation Misinformed About State
By L. T. Anderson
Commenting a month ago on the forthcoming West Virginia primary election, a news magazine said, “West Virginia, which has a reputation for bigotry. . .”
The magazine didn’t say how or why West Virginia had a reputation for bigotry.
Nor did the hundred or so Washington correspondents who, upon arriving in the state in force three weeks ago, began at once to inform their papers of rampant, religious prejudice in West Virginia.
Like Sen. Humphrey, the Washington press corps lost in Tuesday’s election. No matter how many shrewd analyses are written today, no matter how many hitherto undisclosed pre-election signs are now produced, the fact that the nation’s readers were misinformed about West Virginia and West Virginians cannot be altered.
West Virginia was badly portrayed to the nation. It was pictured as a kingdom of defiant, vulgar, gross and stupid religious bigotry.
It could be said fairly, in some cases, that the writers simply hadn’t been in the state long enough to observe bigotry, or anything esle [sic], before they began to send their dispatches.
One conclusion, drawn by Charleston newsmen, is that the visiting press corps was influenced heavily by its own membership. Impressed mightily by disproportionate church membership figures, the correspondents may have been all too willing to listen to their colleagues.
They did find bigotry here, of course. But it was obviously magnified in their pre-election stories.
A New York political writer said he was astonished to find persons who spoke so frankly of their mistrust of the Roman Catholic Church. Vocal and unembarrassed opposition to Catholicism, perhaps, caused him to regard the attitude as being representative. Too, he assumed, apparently, that those who were critical of the church would be unable to vote for Sen. Kennedy.
A syndicated columnist declared before the election that he placed all who expressed anti-Catholic sentiment—whether based on honest inquiry, historical research or sheer distaste for liturgy—in the category of bigots.
His columns written here indicated that he assumed they all would vote for Sen. Humphrey, seemingly finding it impossible to believe Sen. Kennedy’s religion could be questioned by a Kennedy supporter.
The out of state newsmen for the most part ate together, wrote together and relaxed together. They talked to each other constantly about their discoveries in West Virginia. They traded bigotry stories. They marveled together about their awesome find.
They took polls. Many of them correctly showed Kennedy to be the leader. But as one correspondent confessed Monday night, “We didn’t have the guts to write it.” They couldn’t believe their own polls. They couldn’t believe persons who discussed religion so frankly could vote for a man with whose religion they disagreed.
They looked for bigotry and they found it where it didn’t exist. At least two metropolitan newspapers displayed what they regarded as an atrocious example of it, a headline from the West Virginia Hillbilly, which read, “Pa Ain’t Going to Sell His Vote to No Catholic.”
The headline was satirical. It appeared over a satirical story. It was an anti-biogotry [sic] story, written by Jim Comstock, Hillbilly publisher, a fair, objective and frequently scholarly man.
The Washington Post and Times Herald apologized to its readers for using the story.
A Boston Globe columnist used the Comstock headline to illustrate seething prejudice here. The same columnist pointed out that The Charleston Gazette had rejected some inflammatory advertising. In this, he was correct, but he didn’t say that the advertising was sent to Charleston from other states.
All the inflammatory material sent The Gazette came from other states. None bore a West Virginia postmark. Most of it came from Massachusetts, Wisconsin and California. A majority of the letters to the editor which were violently critical of Catholicism was sent from outside West Virginia.
The visiting newsmen didn’t have time to acquire true knowledge of the West Virginia character. Many of their observations were based, perhaps unconsciously, upon the mountaineer caricature.
Only a few of them guessed that much Humphrey support came from organized labor—not from religious conviction. Only a few considered Kennedy’s extremely well organized and expensive campaign as a factor.
Some of the correspondents assumed West Virginia is a Southern state, which it isn’t. Some of them repeatedly mentioned strong West Virginia support for Sen. Lyndon Johnson, which may exist, but of which there are no clear and visible signs.
No one took into account West Virginia’s splendid regard for the law and compassionate attitudes in connection with racial integration in the schools.
It would appear, almost, that a great many important things were left out, and the Tuesday vote shows, no matter how you look at it, that Humphrey lost a possible chance at the presidency and the Washington press corps lost enormous prestige.
Among its lesser misconceptions rests this greater one: that the religious issue is buried.
If the religious issue was ever a factor in presidential campaigns, it remains a factor, for the issue wasn’t settled here. This wasn’t the state in which to settle the question.
But the nation, given a false picture of the state, is prepared to believe the issue is dead. The nation may be tragically wrong.
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