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President Kennedy's visits to Oklahoma tied to his powerful friend

The president needed Robert S. Kerr to push his priorities through the U.S. Senate, and he visited the state twice to pay tribute to him.
by Chris Casteel Published: November 17, 2013

Five days before the presidential election of 1960, then-Sen. John F. Kennedy made a campaign stop in Oklahoma City.

“I don't believe all those stories that Oklahoma is going Republican,” Kennedy said. “I think Oklahoma is going Democratic on Tuesday.”

In fact, Oklahoma went Republican in that election, but Kennedy didn't need the state to win the presidency. He would, however, as president, need the most powerful politician from the state at that time.

And that's why Kennedy made a visit to the hills of southeastern Oklahoma in October 1961 to dedicate a road and spend the night at a ranch owned by Sen. Robert S. Kerr.

In his remarks at the Kermac Angus Ranch near Poteau, the president referred to the Dust Bowl migration and the need for conservation.

“During the campaign last year I met many citizens of this state, but not in this state,” Kennedy said.

“I met them in Alaska, where many Oklahomans had gone in the Thirties to build a new life. I met them in the valleys of California, where many citizens of this state had gone in the Thirties to build a better life.

“And they left Oklahoma, the state that they loved, because this country had not learned the lessons of land, wood and water, because they had not recognized that these great national resources can only be maintained for ourselves and those who come after us by dedicated men. ... Now the citizens of Oklahoma stay in Oklahoma. Now they recognize the opportunities that are to be found in this state, and Oklahomans, instead of leaving, are coming home.”

The wealthy president from Massachusetts got to see some bulls and eat some steak in the impoverished area of Oklahoma and dedicate a highway described in the Carl Albert Collection at the University of Oklahoma as “a mountain road that starts nowhere in particular and goes to a suburb of the same place.”

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by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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