GENERAL ARTICLES

Washington Memo

"Dewey was the smartest opponent Roosevelt has met . . . but more important was the strength of the political organization behind him"

ERNEST K. LINDLEY November 1 1944
GENERAL ARTICLES

Washington Memo

"Dewey was the smartest opponent Roosevelt has met . . . but more important was the strength of the political organization behind him"

ERNEST K. LINDLEY November 1 1944

Washington Memo

"Dewey was the smartest opponent Roosevelt has met . . . but more important was the strength of the political organization behind him"

ERNEST K. LINDLEY

WHEN the ballot boxes are opened the prophets may find themselves confounded; but the 1944 presidential campaign has been fought on the premise, accepted by practical politicians on both sides, that the result might turn on a few handfuls of votes in a few critical areas. Under the United States system, it must be remembered, the President is elected, not directly by popular vote, but by an electoral college in which each state has as many electors as it has Senators and Representatives combined.

The candidate who receives the most popular votes in any state wins its entire electoral vote. For example, in the State of New York, where normally approximately 6,000,000 votes are cast, a plurality of 1,000 — or, theoretically, even of a single vote^—could turn 47 electoral votes either way. (In all, there are 531 votes in the electoral college, 266 being necessary to elect a president.

The least populous states have only three votes each.)

Thus if a presidential candidate carries some states by a wide margin and loses others by a narrow margin, he may receive a nationwide popular majority and fall short of a majority of the electoral college. It has happened. This system is a more or less permanent handicap to the Democratic nominee who normally has an excess of votes in the South which are worthless as offsets to small Republican pluralities in other states. The rule of thumb is that in a two-party contest the Democratic nominee must receive 52% of the popular vote in order to obtain a majority of the electoral college.

Up to the moment this was written there were many states where the race between President Roosevelt and Governor Dewey appeared to be neck and neck, suggesting either a close result in the electoral college or an electoral landslide for one or the other, precipitated by small popular pluralities in the doubtful states. However, there has not been a campaign since 1916, when President Wilson won a second term by an eyelash from Charles E. Hughes, in which politicians and experienced observers, despite all the improved techniques of forecasting results by polls, have felt less sure of themselves.

As the campaign progressed it confirmed the earlier impression that as a politician Governor Dewey was the smartest and most accomplished of the four Republican presidential nominees Mr. Roosevelt has met. His radio technique is excellent. His speeches were carefully prepared and, on the whole, shrewdly timed. In his travels around the country he skillfully aired and aggravated local grievances and cultivated the local politicians, whom Wendell Willkie, the Republican nominee of 1940, had often slighted.

As had been anticipated Mr. Dewey sought to neutralize as issues both the conduct of the war and the organization of the peace; the former by promising to keep the chiefs of staff organized by Mr. Roosevelt, and the second by endorsing in strong, if general,

language a world organization to enforce the peace. He also sought to neutralize as issues the New Deal social and labor reforms, including, somewhat to the surprise of his more conservative backers, the National Labor Relations Act, which protects the right of workers to organize and to bargain collectively. This enabled him to hammer on the failure of the Roosevelt Administration to abolish unemployment before the war, on its administrative deficiencies and on its sundry other vulnerable spots. Mr. Roosevelt was moved to remark, in his first outright political speech of the campaign, that the Republicans were trying to hold the Democrats responsible for the depression of the early thirties, which had occurred and had not been remedied during a Republican regime, while taking the credit for all the New Deal reforms, most of which were enacted over Republican opposition.

But Mr. Dewey unquestionably tried hard to separate himself from the past record of the Republican Party, in both foreign and domestic affairs.

He could do so safely in the campaign, for he knew that both the isolationists or nationalists and the reactionaries in domestic affairs were immovably and bitterly anti-Roosevelt. He could bid boldly for the middle-of-the-road vote and even for the labor vote.

The obvious Democratic response was to question, first, Dewey’s sincerity and, seeondly, his ability to make good on his promises if elected, in view of the schisms within the Republican Party and its voting record in Congress on both international and domestic affairs right up to the present time.

More important probably than Dewey’s personal campaign strategy and tactics 1ms been the strength of the organization behind him. His own chief campaign managers are seasoned professionals. He and they succeeded in mobilizing the other 25 Republican governors, many of them also young, vigorous, attractive, and politically skillful men. The Republicans control the governments of all the large states outside the South except Indiana. In addition they control almost three quarters of the county courthouses and city halls outside the South. These grassroots and sidewalk politicians were fully mustered for the Dewey campaign. And, as usual, most of the industrialists, financiers and people with inherited wealth were willing to spend money freely to beat Mr. Roosevelt.

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The Democratic Party, as such, was hopelessly outclassed in political organization. Throughout the country there are, of course, many Democrats on the payroll of the Federal Government. But the civil service has been expanded greatly during the Roosevelt Administration, and other legislation passeri in recent years prohibits all employees of the Federal Government, except top policy-making officials, from taking part in political campaigns. No such restrictions apply to the great majority of officials and employees of state and local governments. Having immobilized hundreds of thousands of its members in the Federal service by reform legislation and having lost control of most of the state capitals and most of the local governments outside the South, the Democratic Party found itself with only the sketchiest of political organizations.

Yet this was the national campaign in which the political infantry was needed more than in any other within recollection. For millions of voters had encouragement and aid in registering and otherwise qualifying themselves to vote at their new or temporary residences. In addition, in many states special efforts were needed to get ballots to men and women in the armed services and to be sure that their votes were cast and counted. The Democrats needed to have this work done more than the Republicans. For a majority of the migratory warworkers were Democrats, and everything indicated that a great majority of the younger voters in the armed services favored the re-election of Roosevelt. That is why the Republicans in Con gress fought, with marked success, against a simplified Federal ballot

which would have made voting in the national election easy for members of the armed services, and why the Republican organization did not, in most war production areas, exert itself to get new voters registered.

It l>ecnme evident early in the campaign that many potential R»x>sevelt supporters were not planning to qualify themselves to vote. Many thought he would be re-elected anyway —so why take the trouble? Many were too preoccupied with the war, their jobs, and the pleasures of distributing the contents of fat pay envelopes.

In the absence of a strong regular Democratic organization, the job of getting these potential Roosevelt supporters registered — of overcoming lethargy and of helping willing but mystified voters — was undertaken chiefly by the Political Action Committee of the CIO, and a companion Independent Citizens PAC, both headed by Sidney Hillman, head of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers. Roosevelt has had active labor support in every election. But this was the first in which, in many states, a political arm of labor was more active and more effective than the regular Democratic organization. In some areas the PAC had the active co-operation of local AF of L unions. But in others it did not, and the CIO label was definitely objectionable to some AF of L and Railway Brotherhood members. Certainly it was a red flag to many farmers and small town businessmen, as well as to many industrialists—few of whom, however, felt the need for any additional grounds for opposing Mr. Roosevelt.

AN the campaign gathered momentum politicians of both Parties were agreed that the election might well depend on the success of the CIO in getting the potential Roosevelt vote, mostly in the cities, registered.