"Then we had another poll taken in West Virginia. It was 80 percent to 20 percent against Kennedy," Sorensen said. "Some said a Catholic president would invite the pope to help run the country. It looked hopeless.
"So why would Kennedy come to West Virginia? He knew he had to confront the issue. He decided to go all out."
Sorensen said he made several trips to West Virginia with Kennedy that spring. He said the future president was impressed with the state's people and beauty.
"Kennedy also had the new experiences of seeing visible poverty, seeing coal mines and coal miners," Sorensen said. "He had grown up in privilege. He had never seen that before."
Sorensen, also Kennedy's main speechwriter, has written nine books. His most recent book -- "Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History" -- focuses on major issues like the missile crisis during Kennedy's thousand days in office, before he was killed on Nov. 22, 1963.
Kennedy and his primary opponent, Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota, both spent a lot of money in the West Virginia race, Sorensen said Monday.
"They had to spend money to get their name on political slates," Sorensen said, but he disputed the notion that Kennedy "bought" the election.
"At the time, The Charleston Gazette sent its reporters out to find traces of corruption. They couldn't find anything," he said. "Kennedy didn't buy the election. He sold himself to the people of West Virginia."
Kennedy focused his campaign on West Virginians' need for better homes, more jobs, better schools and more health clinics, Sorensen said: "Kennedy campaigned by going town to town, hollow to hollow and hill to hill."
Kennedy won the state's primary with 61 percent of the vote. Sorensen said the victory in the Mountain State primary 50 years ago was the critical factor in Kennedy's eventual election as president.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.