Serendipity had me reading the history of Truman’s campaign for the presidency during this year’s Democratic and Republican national conventions. As the national media emphasized the current poll ratings of today’s candidates, I read about Truman’s low ratings. Pollsters assured everyone he would not, could not win. Dewey had the election won hands-down, according to David McCullough in “Truman.”
Dewey proceeded with a low key campaign. Truman, his family, staff and an entourage of reporters piled onto the train “Magellan” for a whistle stop campaign traversing the country. Stopping in little and big towns along the way, Truman made up to eight speeches a day. If he did not have time to stop, he would stand and wave at the folks who came to the station to watch the train pass through their community. Newspapers and radio coverage of the day negated the crowds as “folks who want to see a seated president.” They saw the president. They heard the president. They cheered him on.
The Republican party knew that they had the farm vote securely tucked into their back pocket and ignored them. Truman, as a farmer for three decades, went to the farmers and talked.
When election night came, the commentators said, “once we have the farm vote, Dewey will have the election settled in his favor.” It did not work that way. Truman’s time with the farmers had left them thinking. He knew their issues and presented a plan for those issues. On the other side of the political aisle, Dewey also boarded a train to campaign in across the country. He did not travel as extensively or as exhaustively as Truman. McCullough noted that Dewey often pulled the curtain on his coach and did not even wave at the crowds as his train passed through communities.
The predictions all said Dewey would win by a landslide, even though few really liked the “aloof” Dewey, and he did not discuss the issues or present solutions. On election night as the votes rolled in, reporters continued to expect Dewey would win.
Truman went to bed with the election undecided saying, “Wake me if anything significant happens.” At 4 a.m. his staff woke him. “you have won.” More than one newspaper already had set the front page headline for a Dewey victory. One photograph summarizes the upset: A broadly grinning, victorious Truman holds up the “Dewey Wins” headline.
He won because he listened to the people. A voter who had talked all summer of voting for Dewey told a reporter, “When voting time came, I just couldn’t do it.”
An Ohio farmer said, “I had the feeling he (Truman) could understand the kind of fixes I get into.”
Truman easily carried enough votes to win the electoral votes. His nationwide, grass-roots campaign of meeting folks face to face and talking with them put him in the White House for another four years.
Four years later, the Republicans, with Eisenhower as their man, took the White House. Ever the man aware of his responsibility to serve the country, Truman did everything he could to assure a smooth transition.
In these final weeks before the election, the talk shows focus on difficulties related to mail-in votes, election fraud and a delay in final tallies. It may take days or weeks for the final vote to be determined. I can only hope we will again see a peaceful waiting and acceptance that “the people have spoken.” I don’t predict the outcome of the election. I do expect to be like Truman and head for bed at the end of election day saying, “Wake me up if something significant happens.”
Joan Hershberger is a former staff writer for the El Dorado News-Times and author of “Twenty Gallons of Milk and other columns from the El Dorado News-Times.”