Election of 1944: Referendum on World War II

Democratic Party: Franklin Roosevelt (New York) and Harry Truman (Missouri)
Republican Party: Thomas Dewey (New York) and John Bricker (Ohio)

Election Results:
Roosevelt and Truman: 25.61 million popular votes, 432 electoral votes.
Dewey and Bricker: 22.01 million popular votes, 99 electoral votes.

Given the recent successes of the American campaign against Japan and Germany, it seemed that Franklin Roosevelt’s political successes were without end. He had built a strong coalition of Democrats and Republicans in Congress based on his execution of the war effort and the nation’s economy was booming due to war mobilization. The only detriment that Roosevelt may face is if the extent of his health problems were found out by the American public, but his Democratic aides were able to mask this with greater caution in selecting campaign events and accentuating the positives of Roosevelt’s three terms as president. There was little surprise in the 1944 nominating convention that Roosevelt would have an opportunity to win a fourth term of office. The only point of interests from the convention came as Vice President Henry Wallace, an ultra-liberal, was replaced by the more moderate Senator Harry Truman of Missouri, whose connection to the big city political machines would shore up support for the Roosevelt campaign.

The Republicans nominated Governor Thomas Dewey of New York to be their standard bearer, voting on the 1st ballot for this moderate Republican. Dewey was in fact in favor of maintaining the programs of the New Deal, but felt that their execution could be made more efficient. Dewey’s radio addresses and limited campaign speeches insisted that he would make a better president than Roosevelt, offering little in the way of details. Dewey also attacked Roosevelt’s age, going after the president’s health and the stagnation of the executive office under his watch. His Republican surrogates went around the country insisting that Roosevelt was becoming a dictator and that his power must be stopped before he became a president for life.

The Republican campaign attacks against Roosevelt were seen by many in the public as unseemly and often times misguided. One attack on the president was that he commissioned a naval boat to retrieve his dog Fala from Alaska after a visit to a naval base. Roosevelt, who had become accustomed to using the media as his own personal political tool, joked that while he would accept attacks on himself or his policies, he would not tolerate attacks on his dog. Roosevelt’s charm and the long list of successes during his three terms in office outweighed whatever perceived threats Dewey was presenting to the public. The Democrats made popular the phrase “Never swap horses in the middle of the stream” and the American public responded in kind by re-electing Roosevelt. Dewey improved on the popular and electoral votes of other Roosevelt challengers, but only managed to win 12 states and was still defeated by a significant majority.

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