Dan Ogden: Paving the way for JFK

Vancouver resident recalls his role as advance man for 1960 Kennedy campaign

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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photoDan Ogden on back cover of "Electing the President," which he wrote with Arthur L. Peterson.

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photoDan Ogden explains his duties during the 1960 presidential campaign, including setting up speaking appearances and briefing John F. Kennedy on the local political figures he'd be sharing the stage with at rallies.

(/The Columbian)

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Dan Ogden was an advance man during John F. Kennedy’s 1960 campaign, and he was invited along when the president scheduled a series of appearances in Texas in November 1963.

Ogden, who was an Interior Department official, had a job commitment and didn’t make the trip. Ogden and a few other people were in a Maryland restaurant when they heard what happened in Dallas on Nov. 22.

“We were just devastated,” Ogden said.

Now, as the nation approaches the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death, Ogden isn’t just recalling the stunning conclusion of an era that came to be known as “Camelot.” He can remember how it started.

As an advance man in Kennedy’s campaign, Ogden made sure the campaign stop had enough cars and drivers for the motorcade, a speaking platform at the rally site and a place for Kennedy to eat.

It was his job to tell JFK that Western Kentucky’s sports teams were nicknamed the Hilltoppers, and how they were doing. Ogden stood guard in the hallway when Kennedy had to use a women’s restroom.

It all brought the academic world of political science down to the grass-roots level — which was the point of Ogden’s 1960 campaign work.

Hands-on experience

“A lot of political science people never had any experience” in elections, Ogden, 91, said in the east Vancouver home he shares with Val, his wife since 1946.

He was a political science professor at Washington State University in Pullman when a fellowship opened up.

Each party offered the opportunity to spend a year at Republican or Democratic headquarters. Ogden applied for the Democratic fellowship and won it.

“I was Whitman County Democratic chairman, and I had letters from all the Democrats who mattered” in the state, Ogden said. They included Sens. Henry “Scoop” Jackson and Warren “Maggie” Magnuson, as well as Gov. Albert Rosellini.

Arthur Peterson, who received the Republican-sponsored fellowship, teamed up with Ogden to write an insiders’ view of the campaign, “Electing the President.”

After Kennedy beat Hubert Humphrey for the 1960 Democratic nomination, Ogden told party leaders that he wanted to be a campaign advance man. The officials realized that Ogden could be a valuable asset in that job.

Kennedy had too many Boston Irishmen working for him at the time, Ogden said, and Democratic organizers wanted some campaign diversity in the nation’s heartland.

Ogden did four advances, including one-man stops in Bowling Green, Ky.; La Crosse, Wis.; and Fort Dodge, Iowa.

It actually wasn’t a one-man effort, Ogden explained.

“You didn’t do the work yourself,” he said. When Ogden arrived seven to 10 days ahead of the candidate, he usually had a local committee to work with.

Locals do the work

“You get them to do the work,” he said. People would be assigned to all the aspects of the visit, including motorcade, publicity, sound equipment and music by school bands.

“You might acquire a flatbed truck as a platform,” Ogden said.

Because Ogden was doing the set-up work, the time he spent with Kennedy was limited.

“I’d get him out of the airplane and into the motorcade,” Ogden said. “I never had a long conversation.” Kennedy would ask him, “Who are the people I need to know about?” or “Should I wear my overcoat?”

There also were things Ogden needed to know so Kennedy could put them into his speech.

“I’d tell him what college was in that town, its team name, and what it had done lately. He was a quick study.”

Ogden also found himself navigating the complicated dynamics of party politics, and not everybody was working toward the same goal. At one stop, he had to referee rivalries between opposing wings of the Democratic Party.

“La Crosse, Wis., was Hubert Humphrey territory. The fellow in charge for the Kennedy team didn’t want Humphrey people on the platform with Kennedy. There was a lot of bad blood” following the Democratic convention, Ogden said.

But the goal had shifted to beating Republican nominee Richard Nixon, “And we needed to show unity,” Ogden said.

Some candidates were looking for a chance to ride on Kennedy’s coattails. And that was part of Ogden’s favorite campaign story, he said.

Help from the jailer

When he arrived at Bowling Green, Ky., there was no Democratic central committee to provide all the groundwork for Kennedy’s visit. So Ogden wound up working with local Democratic candidates — including the county jailer.

“Did you know they elect jailers in Kentucky? He got me in touch with the sound-system guy.”

Ogden got the details of the Bowling Green appearance smoothed out, including the motorcade arrangements. Then, as Kennedy and the local Democratic notables motored down the street, this announcement boomed through a loud-speaker:

“Here comes the next president of the U-U-U-U-United States and the next jailer of Warren County!”

Ogden figures he would have been back on the campaign trail in 1964 if Kennedy had been alive.

In 1968, Ogden left the Interior Department and returned to the academic side of political science for 10 years as a professor at Colorado State University and then Lewis & Clark College. He then spent 10 years in public power policy, until 1988.

But the Ogdens weren’t done with elective politics. Val Ogden served 12 years in the state House of Representatives, and “I did signs and doorbelling” during her campaigns, Dan said.

And they’re still not done: Val Ogden was just elected one of Clark County’s 15 freeholders, drawing the second-highest vote total.