October, 1944 — Election time

Roy Justus, Minneapolis Star Journal

The presidential election of 1944 pitted FDR against New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey. Even though FDR had been in office longer than any other president, he remained popular and there was little doubt, in the midst of a world war, that he would win a record fourth term.

A high point of the campaign was when Roosevelt gave a speech in which he ridiculed Republican claims that his administration was corrupt and wasteful with tax money. He particularly ridiculed a GOP claim that he had sent a US Navy warship to pick up his Scottish terrier Fala in Alaska, noting that “Fala was furious” at such rumors. The speech was met with loud laughter and applause. ┬áThe Republicans campaigned for smaller government and a less-regulated economy as the end of the war seemed in sight. Roosevelt’s declining health was also the subject of a whisper campaign. To quiet rumors about his poor health, Roosevelt insisted on making a vigorous campaign swing in October, and rode in an open car through city streets.

In response, Dewey gave a blistering speech a few days later in which he accused Roosevelt of being “indispensable” to corrupt big-city Democratic organizations and American Communists; he also referred to members of FDR’s cabinet as a “motley crew”.

But American battlefield successes in Europe and the Pacific during the campaign, such as the liberation of Paris in August and the successful Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines in October made Roosevelt unbeatable. On November 7 he scored a comfortable victory, taking 36 states and 432 electoral votes. In the popular vote Roosevelt won 25.6 million to Dewey’s 22 million.

At the urging of Democrat Party leaders, and against his own wishes, Roosevelt switched running mates in 1944 from incumbent Vice President Henry Wallace, to Missouri Senator Harry S. Truman.

Wallace was regarded by many as a political liability — too left wing and personally eccentric to be next in line for the Presidency. His New Age spiritual beliefs and close ties to a controversial Russian spiritual guru caused numerous party leaders to privately tell Roosevelt they would fight Wallace’s renomination.

They proposed Truman, a moderate who had become well-known as the chairman of a Senate wartime investigating committee. Roosevelt personally liked Wallace and knew little about Truman, but reluctantly agreed to accept Truman as his new running mate to preserve party unity. The choice proved to be historic, as FDR’s declining health led to his death in April 1945, and Truman thus became the nation’s 33rd President instead of Wallace.

S.J. Ray, K.C. Star

S.J. Ray, K.C. Star


Cy Hungerford, Pittsburg Post Gazette
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