LaHistory: Bob Kennon and the JFK Mailer

By Mitch Rabalais

In late November, Louisiana politics is usually consumed with the excitement of the final weeks before an election — and 1963 was no different.

Jimmie Davis was constitutionally barred from seeking re-election and a large field was competing for the Governor’s Mansion.

That included former Governor Bob Kennon, a “good government” reformer backed by conservatives and the business community, was attempting to recapture the office he had left seven years prior. With Gillis Long and John McKeithen fighting over the old Long populists and “Chep” Morrison’s support limited to the major cities, Kennon was perceived as the race’s frontrunner.

Deviating from his old platform, Kennon played off the unpopularity of President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert. Calling the Kennedys “young, misguided men,” the former governor pledged to fight their “liberal” Civil Rights agenda and programs which he called a violation of “state sovereignty."

As the campaign wore on, Kennon devoted little time to state issues and instead drove home his message of opposition. Passionately attacking the Kennedy brothers on the stump, Kennon even went as far as to say that he would support a Republican in the next presidential election.

He also attempted to tie Morrison, Long and McKeithen to the White House, calling them “the Kennedy triple entry.”

As Election Day drew closer, the Kennon campaign decided to dig into their war chest and send mailers statewide attacking the president. They were printed and sent out on Nov. 21. The following day, JFK was assassinated in Dallas.

That weekend, as television audiences were captivated by the heartbreaking images of the president’s funeral, the mailers started arriving across the state. Many voters, while receptive to the message weeks prior, were now furious that Kennon had attacked the slain commander-in-chief.

Realizing his error and the unfortunate hand of fate, Kennon released a statement expressing sorrow at President Kennedy’s death, but it was too late. Two weeks later, he was crushed at the polls and finished fourth with 14 percent of the vote.

Kennon would never seek elected office again.

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