Remembering John F. Kennedy; for two years, a frequent visitor to Oregon

Remembering John F. Kennedy; for two years, a frequent visitor to Oregon

By Grant Schott from Portland, Oregon. Grant is a political activist and union organizer. Previously, he contributed "Remembering George McGovern".

During his one-thousand-day presidency, John F. Kennedy visited Oregon only once, on September 27, 1963 as part of his Western States conservation tour, when he gave a brief speech at the decommissioned naval facility at Tongue Point in Clatsop Co. However, from 1958 to May 1960, candidate Kennedy was a frequent Oregon visitor. As we remember President Kennedy 50 years later, most Oregonians might be surprised at the importance that Oregon played in his road to the white House.

Then one of only about 15 primary states - some non-binding- that had only recently gained popularity, Oregon’s 1959 legislature passed a then-unique law requiring nationally recognized candidates be placed on the ballot. Thus, active candidates JFK and Senator Hubert Humphrey were joined on the ballot by Sens. Stuart Symington and Lyndon Johnson, while Adlai Stevenson signed a non-candidate affidavit. A surprise entry was Oregon's Sen. Wayne Morse, his favorite-son status secured by supporters’ petitioning. Morse then decided to announce his candidacy officially in Dec. 1959, and also filed in Maryland.

State Senator Monroe Sweetland was an Oregon JFK organizer starting in May 1959 who once told me traveled the state and recruited county campaign chairs. Sweetland wrote, in 1964, an account of the Oregon campaign that was published in a 2000 Oregon Historical Society Quarterly.

JFK’s early effort was coordinated first by Sylvia Nemer (later Davidson, who still lives in Portland) through late 1959, when Congresswoman Edith Green was named Oregon chair. Stan Weber was the Executive Secretary at JFK’s Portland headquarters, 723 S.W. Third Ave.

JFK entered seven primaries, starting with New Hampshire on March 8th and ending with Oregon on May 20th, although he was unopposed in NH, Nebraska, and Indiana. JFK’s key victories over Humphrey in Wisconsin and West Virginia have been well documented. Humphrey dropped out after W.V. on May 10th, but JFK still faced Morse in MD on May 17th- he won 70% - 13% - and three days later in in OR.

Although Morse’s challenge to JFK didn’t receive the same billing as Humphrey’s, JFK went all out to win Oregon. I once heard Morse’s manager, the late Orde Pinckney of Bend, claim that the JFK campaign spent more on a newspaper tabloid than Morse did in total. The money and momentum paid off, with JFK winning 51% to Morse’s 40%.

On the jump, a fairly complete itinerary of JFK’s visits to Oregon:

1958

1959

1960

My thanks to the archivists at the JFK Library for pointing me in the right direction to their Oregon files.

Please share your direct memories of Senator Kennedy’s visits or stories from your parents or others.

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