President Harry S Truman: The Campaign Against Dewey

About the campaign President Harry S Truman waged against Thomas Dewey in his bid for reelection in 1948.


Election: For the 2nd time, the Republicans nominated Gov. Thomas E. Dewey of New York. As his running mate, they chose Earl Warren, the popular and progressive governor of California. Though Dewey's slick appearance counted against him in some quarters ("How," asked Alice Roosevelt Longworth, "can you vote for a man who looks like the bridegroom on a wedding cake?"), the divisions in the Democratic party and the obvious conservative trend of the electorate seemed to assure his victory. Rather than jeopardize a "sure thing" with an issues-oriented campaign, Dewey decided to concentrate on windy platitudes about "national unity," and his speeches bored both the press and the public. Aboard his train, the "Victory Special," Dewey spent most of his time trying to look like a statesman, while his well-financed campaign rolled at a smooth and leisurely pace toward November.

Truman, on the other hand, plunged into his "hopeless" struggle with gusto. His whistle-stop campaign brought him to nearly 400 cities and small towns, where he had a chance to meet the people and tear into the record of the "do-nothing Republican Congress." In stop after stop, he introduced his wife and daughter and then minced no words in a series of blistering speeches that delighted his audiences:

"That notorious do-nothing Republican 80th Congress has stuck a pitchfork in the farmer's back.... These Republican gluttons of privilege want a return of the Wall Street dictatorship. Your typical Republican reactionary is a very shrewd man with a calculating machine where his heart ought to be... The Republicans tell me they stand for unity. As Al Smith used to say, "That's a lot of hooey,' And if that rhymes with anything, it's not my fault..."

As Truman "poured it on," he was often interrupted by shouts of "Give 'em hell, Harry!" The reporters who traveled with the President noted the large and enthusiastic crowds that greeted him everywhere, but they assumed that this only reflected people's inevitable interest in seeing a sitting President, and the confident predictions of a Dewey landslide never wavered. Under these circumstances, few Americans were willing to contribute to Truman's campaign. His efforts were so woefully under-financed that he was regularly cut off the radio in midspeech for nonpayment, and once in Oklahoma City his staff had to take up a collection to get his train out of the station. Such difficulties only served to endear the underdog Truman to the electorate. As one ordinary voter from Ohio put it: "I kept reading about that Dewey fellow, and the more I read the more he reminded me of one of those slick ads trying to get money out of my pocket. Now Harry Truman, running around and yipping and falling all over his feet--I had the feeling he could understand the kind of fixes I get into..."

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