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JFK's Goat-Out-the-Vote Campaign

Goats have figured in several political campaigns, but one of the most memorable was when John F. Kennedy first dipped his toes into politics in 1946 at age 29. His older brother Joseph had been groomed for a political career, but he was killed in World War II, so second son John stepped in to fill his shoes. His first run for office was to represent Massachusetts’ 11th Congressional District. It wasn’t going to be easy. The district was full of working class people who didn’t know Jack.

Kennedy's main opponents were formidable: John F. "Spring" Cotter, a Charlestown local, and Michael Neville, a city councilman from Cambridge. Both had experience, and strong community ties. Kennedy didn't. "He was virtually a stranger to Boston," writes historian J. Anthony Lukas in Common Ground. Worse, his chief assets—his name recognition and his dad's money—counted as demerits in the largely working-class areas where he was campaigning. "[Kennedy] is registered at the Hotel Bellevue in Boston, and I daresay he has never slept there," one opponent accused. A local newspaper renamed him "Jack 'Jawn' Kennedy," calling him "ever so British."

"His patrician gloss, the elegant ease acquired at Choate and Harvard and cultivated in London and Palm Beach, was not calculated to go down well in the waterfront saloons of Charlestown, the clammy tenements of the North End, or the bleak three-deckers of East Boston, Brighton, Somerville and Cambridge," writes Lukas. The political establishment ignored him, too. "He was rich, he was young," of his staffers, William J. "Billy" Sutton, later recalled. "They figured he wouldn't catch on."

What turned the tide of public opinion to Kennedy’s favor was an unexpected boost from a goat. Read the story of how that happened at Atlas Obscura.


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