Monday, November 5, 2018

FDR, Harry Truman, and the 1940 Election

The other day I posted a story about the come-from-behind success of Harry Truman in 1948.  Today I have a story about the presidential election of 1940 in which FDR officially broke the third-term barrier.  Although the victory was not nearly as impressive as that of four years earlier, Roosevelt defeated dark horse Republican candidate Wendell Willkie.  That victory was seventy-eight years ago today.

Roosevelt’s unprecedented run caused concern among both Republicans and Democrats; among the latter were would-be successors who had patiently waited their turn for the presidency but were preempted by the incumbent.  These included former ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, Democratic chairman James A. Farley, and Vice President John Nance Garner.

Willkie, a utility company executive, appeared virtually out of nowhere to defeat better-known Republican leaders such as Thomas E. Dewey and Robert A. Taft for the nomination.  Willkie’s performance was better than of Alf Landon’s four years earlier, but he still lost by about five million votes and by very wide margin in the Electoral College.

Here is a colorful campaign poster for the Democratic ticket in Missouri.  What is especially notable—and which prompted me to purchase it—is that four years hence Truman would again be appearing on the party ticket with FDR, but this time as his vice-presidential running mate.
Roosevelt defeated Midwesterner Willkie by 85,000 votes in Missouri and captured its fifteen electoral votes.  His coattails were strong enough to push Truman on to reelection.  Elected to the Senate in 1934, Truman barely survived the Democratic primary this year because of his ties to the corrupt Pendergast machine.  In the general election he won by a less than 2.5 percentage points. 

But that weren’t enough to pull gubernatorial candidate Larry McDaniel over the finish line; McDaniel lost by 3,600 votes (out of 1.8 million).  Frank G. Harris, who had been lieutenant governor since 1933, was reelected and died in office four years later. There was obviously some ticket splitting going on in Missouri that year.

As an aside this cardboard political poster demonstrates that some of the campaign material of this time had a second life.  On the back side is a rancher/small businessperson’s detailed budget for May 1, 1941.  Telephone: four dollars.

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