CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A month ago a reporter from a national paper called me with a request. He was preparing a story on the 50th anniversary of President John Kennedy's assassination and wanted the name of a town in West Virginia that felt a close connection with that president.
I told him good luck. For it seemed that Kennedy had visited almost every town in West Virginia in his effort to win that state's presidential primary in the spring of 1960.
One can trace his extensive itinerary at "Battleground West Virginia" on the state's Archives and History website (wvculture.org). In the four weeks leading up to the May 9 primary, Kennedy was in the state 18 days. During that time he visited more than 50 towns and made multiple trips to the larger cities. He came to Parkersburg three times, Charleston and Beckley four times, and Huntington five times.
Kennedy's access to a private plane enabled him to visit several regions of the state on the same day. He opened his West Virginia campaign on April 11by visiting in one day cities in three regions of the state. He began his day in Parkersburg, then traveled to Charleston, then back to the Ohio River to visit Marshall College in Huntington and ended the day in Beckley in the southern coalfield region.
A series of three-day bus tours brought the candidate to a multitude of small towns across the state. On April 25, for example, he toured a factory in Huntington, spoke to grade school students in Williamson and made short visits to five other towns (Lavalette, Wayne, Crum, Kermit and Omar) before arriving at Logan for a night rally.
Kennedy's journeys across the state prompted him to declare at a rally in Charles Town that he had been in the state long enough to "know the difference between Charleston and Charles Town." A comment well received in the Mountain state where outsiders think our capital is Richmond and our crop is cotton.
There were many factors that explain Kennedy's victory, including his unprecedented use of money, organization, and television. But one cannot discount the time he spent in the state. In an Appalachian culture, voters expect the retail politics of face-to-face encounters.