Kennedy Collects Dividends
May 14, 1960
Kennedy Collects Dividends
WASHINGTON - Sen. John Kennedy of Massachusetts already has begun to collect his West Virginia dividends, among which is flattering and comprehensive access to the valuable communications media. Within hours of his triumph in the Mountain State, he was before the TV cameras in a crowded hearing room outlined his plans for the Maryland primary and his fortified claim on the Democratic nomination for Presdient.
If the Kennedy dividends are obvious, the plight of his rivals is not less so. They played a waiting game. Now they have to decide how to stop waiting.
Sen. Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota couldn't ever help himself. He wisely and gallantly withdrew at once, refraining in the best political tradition from mentioning the low blows he felt had been struck at him. His major job now is to be re-elected as senator from Minnesota, and this may be harder by reason of West Virginia.
What Kennedy had to say was less important than the added luster a notable victory lent to his already pronounced star quality. It is a quality compounded of his many assets: his looks, his charm, his superior education, his risk-taking courage, his fortune and even the minority religious status he has effectively turned into an underdog appeal.
As with an actor, each successful vehicle in which he is seen to advantage enhances that quality. It attracts followers and, more important, backers who see in it potential profits for themselves and the things in which they believe.
Inferentially, Kennedy conceded that one thing his opponents may do is start talking about the money he is spending from the ample Kennedy resources. He said his last-minute blitz of radio-TV time and newspaper advertising cost between $40,000 and $50,000 and estimated his other expenses, exclusive of his private plane, at $20,000.
Unequivocally, however, he carried the spending battle into the Nixon camp. The vice president, he said, spent $150,000 in the Indiana primary. Indiana was bad news for Kennedy. Both men were virtually unopposed, but Nixon topped Kennedy by 50,000 votes and two really minor Democrats drew nearly 20 per cent of the Democratic total.
Asked where Nixon got the money, Kennedy shifted to saying that it would be more precise to say Nixon's supporters spent it.
Kennedy, with a rare smile, said he had no program for the stop-Kennedy Democrats. This puts him in a vast majority. While it does not appear that the Barkises among them can afford any longer merely to be willing, their next steps are not in view.
Another interesting moment was when Kennedy had to answer the blunt question of whether he would again ask Franklin Roosevelt Jr. to campaign for him. Roosevelt had implied in West Virginia that Sen. Humphrey had been guilty of shirking World War II service, which was widely attacked as a low blow, thoroughly unjustified.
Kennedy hesitated, then answered yes, that Roosevelt had been helpful in West Virginia. This is no doubt true, as President Franklin Roosevelt is still a living hero there. But the betting is that Roosevelt Junior will now recede into the background.
Certain diagnostic conclusions develop naturally out of Sen. Kennedy's tremendous triumph in West Virginia.
The first is that he will be even more difficult to stop at Los Angeles. The effect of his victory will be to break log-jams of opposition in other states. The bandwagon is not yet rolling at unstoppable speed. But it is moving. By late June, the one remaining question might well be the identity of Kennedy's running mate. This will certainly be true if the Deep South states, which propose to select independent electors, also desert Sen. Lyndon Johnson for a favorite son, as now seems likely. Sen. Kennedy may well win on the first ballot. A movement to have Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi agree to ballot for Sen. Herman Talmadge on every roll call has been initiated.
The second point is that the religious issue was not the dominant one. Indeed, because is was so belabored by press, radio and television, it unquestionably developed a backfire action and helped Sen. Kennedy. The people of West Virginia grew angry about the constant harping on Sen. Kennedy's Roman Catholic faith. At the time this reporter was there, a week before the primary, there was outspoken criticism of the information media for declaring this to be the one compelling issue.
"Look," said a clerk in a men's store, "I am tired of having it appear we are all bigots. I am going to vote for Kennedy as a protest."
That it was not the dominant factor is demonstrated by the fact that a state, which was settled by Protestants who brought with them the fervor of the Reformation, gave a Roman Catholic a huge majority.
Thirdly, there is the dramatic example of what thorough, if expensive, organization can produce if handled by professionals. All the polls were wrong. Most of them gave Humphrey an edge. The most optimistic allowed Kennedy a chance. None remotely suggested the huge majority by which the state was carried.
The more careful reporters in West Virginia noted the extensive, grass-roots based organization, and hedged by saying that since no state in the Southeast had ever experienced such a saturation of organizaed [sic] effort, none knew what the net would be. It produced, for example, a personal call to every West Virginia home with a telephone. This included not merely a request to vote for Sen. Kennedy but an offer of transportation to and from the polls.
Sen. Kennedy took the mining centers. Here, too, we see the result of professional political planning. Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. did a town-to-town speaking tour for Sen. Kennedy. His appearance, reminding the miners of the great days of FDR when the hearts of all miners were lifted up in the great fight to establish their union, was a 10-strike.
Organization - which had the benefit of polls, computers and all the latest scientific mechanisms for determining strengths and weaknesses - was the dominant factor...not religion.
Finally, there was the important fact that Sen. Humphrey was not regarded as having a chance for the nomination. The Kennedy organization made much of this.
"Why vote for a man who hasn't a chance to win the nomination?" they asked over and over again.
Sen. Kennedy, a young, fresh face in national politics, obviously had a chance. Now he has the very best chance of all.
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