It's hard to imagine now, says Charlie Peters, but back in 1960, the Catholicism of John F. Kennedy was every bit as big a problem for Appalachian voters as Barack Obama's race appears to be today.
When Peters, Kennedy's Kanawha County campaign chairman, first took him around Charleston, W.Va., at least 20 percent of the people refused to shake his hand. So Kennedy spent 16 of the 30 days before the primary showing West Virginians "he wasn't wearing the pope's clothes," Peters said.
The campaign brought in Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr., distributed 40,000 copies of a Reader's Digest story about Kennedy's heroism in World War II and spread around plenty of money. Kennedy won the primary, which helped propel him to the nomination.
The Obama campaign chose a different route — a smattering of TV commercials and fliers about his Christian faith, but just one visit by the candidate to Kentucky and West Virginia this year. There was little direct conversation about voters' misconceptions of his religion, or about concerns relating to divisive remarks by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
He lost to Hillary Clinton in both states by more than 30 points. The question now is whether Obama, as the expected nominee, will continue writing off Appalachia or return and try to make his case to white, rural voters.
Read the full story at Kentucky.com.