2016-08-03 / In This Place

New York Also-Rans

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By Trish Adams

No matter what your politics, one thing is for certain in this year’s presidential election: you will be voting for someone who identifies as a New Yorker. (NO quibbling about birther stuff! Many great New Yorkers have “adopted” the state as their own, while many New York state natives have spent lives of achievement in other places.)

In honor of this “Empire”-ical phenomenon, I take a look back at other New Yorkers who have run for president—and lost! Fair warning, this is a political junkie’s column, however, I think even the least political among us will hear astonishing echoes of today’s rhetoric in how these candidates presented themselves or how the press spoke of them —some of them 100 years ago! The other amazing thing is how much the rhetoric sounds the same but often speaks to completely different issues than the ones we face today. Perhaps they just felt the same.

Take for example, the Republican party of the early 20th century. Some of its factions —not the Democrats— were the progressives. When Supreme Court Justice Charles E. Hughes (NY-R) ran against incumbent president Woodrow Wilson, Wilson’s greatest accomplishment was what he had not done: “He Kept Us Out of War” was his slogan as WWI ravaged the European continent. Hughes, the only Supreme Court Justice ever nominated as a presidential contender, almost won: Wilson finally took critical states like California and New Hampshire by razor thin margins to give him 277 electoral college votes to Hughes’ 254 (266 votes were required at the time). Even by November 10, when the News was printed three days after the election, a definite outcome could not be reported. Hughes’s presidential run is almost the least impressive thing on his resumé, which includes Governor of New York (1907–1910), Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court (1910–1916), Secretary of State (1921–1925), judge on the Court of International Justice (1928–1930), and Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court (1930–1941) — appointed by President Herbert Hoover.

November 10, 1916

National Outcome Not Sure Result May Be in Doubt Until Official Count

The fate of Tuesday's election still hangs in the balance as to the National ticket. Tuesday night the big newspapers of the entire country gave the election to Mr. Hughes by a large majority. Wednesday morning conflicting returns began to come in and at press hour last night no definite answer could be given. The continual question in the mouth of everyone is "What’s the news."

Excitement runs high and it is probable that the result will not be known until the official canvass is made. New York newspapers yesterday favored Hughes. In New York state there is a Republican landslide and the entire state and county Republican ticket has been elected. New York gave Hughes about 125,000 plurality.

How It Stood Yesterday

A newspaper dispatch yesterday said returns, such as were complete, or so far complete as to be regarded as indicative, gave President Wilson 232 votes in the electoral college, Hughes 239 and left 60 votes doubtful in 8 states. lt requires 266 votes to elect a president.

Although California still show- ed a lead [for] the President, and his campaign managers were claiming it by at least 15,000, the President’s majority there had dwindled to 1,400 with about one-fifth of the districts missing.

In Minnesota, too, the Wilson lead, which was as high as 10,000 early in the day, steadily decreased as the vote from the rural districts came in. During the day Hughes took the lead with a small margin and then the President shot ahead again, but with less than a thousand votes. The Republican managers claimed the state on the final returns.

Idaho was estimated for the Wilson column with a majority of 10,000. Kansas, while incomplete with a little more than two-thirds of the districts reported, showed President Wilson leading Hughes with more than 27,000. Washington, a little more than half reported, was giving the President a lead of 7,000. West Virginia, two-thirds reported, was showing Hughes a majority of nearly 2,000. North Dakota was very close, two thirds complete showing a Hughes majority of less than 1,000.

President Wilson had taken the lead in California and continued to lead in Minnesota, though his advantage was decreased precipitately from more than 12,000 to 2,000 votes.

This still left the result in doubt. Without those three states President Wilson would have 251 votes and with them he would have 281. Without them Charles E. Hughes would have 242 votes and with them he would have 272.

With a personality that presaged the ebullient FDR, you would think Al Smith, the tremendously popular, personable and exuberant Governor of New York, would have been a shoo-in for President against that retiring, even glum, non-politician Herbert Hoover.

Perhaps no factor so doomed Al Smith, however, than his Catholicism. Anti-Rome sentiment ran high in just about every segment of the population except— Catholics. The second nail in Smith’s coffin was Prohibition. Smith was “agin” it, and although cynicism and distaste against the anti-alcohol amendment was growing, too many states were still firmly entrenched in the “dry” column to vote for him.

And besides, in 1928? Prosperity was rampant, business was booming! These conditions were strongly associated with Republican governance, despite the fact that the Republican incumbent Calvin Coolidge had assumed office when his predecessor, Warren Harding, died in disgrace during the Teapot Dome Scandal, the greatest government corruption scandal to rock the nation until Watergate came along. Although Coolidge had largely restored luster to the office of POTUS, he declined to run for reelection in 1928.

That leaves us with one of history’s great ironies: that a highly respected Secretary of Commerce would become the president who presided over the largest fiscal disaster and economic meltdown in our nation’s history, and prove utterly ineffectual in dealing with it.

May 4, 1928

Political Undertow (New York World)

It would be difficult to conceive two personalities so far apart as these [presidential nomination frontrunners]. Hoover, a shrinker from crowds; Smith, who glories in them and sways them. Hoover, who never thought of politics until eight years ago; Smith, who has been in politics since boyhood. The Secretary of Commerce, occupying his first public office, save the emergency duties that came to him with the war; the Governor of New York, whose official career has had hardly an interruption since he attained leadership. One a sombre, almost solitary soul; the other a man of infinite friendships and compelling magnetism.

They are alike only by reason that each has achieved success in his chosen line, though by paths as far apart as the poles. One is a millionaire; the other never has had time to make money. Now they face each other, rivals for the greatest prize of public life, the most powerful position in the world.

It is not difficult to forecast the manner of their campaigning. Hoover will make a few set speeches; he is no orator, and what talking he does will probably be by radio largely. Smith will churn around the circle, probably specializing in facing audiences in the enemy country. The appalling energy of the man will give [sic] him, however discreet he may be in his intention to go slow.

Curiously enough the battle is likely to be fought far from the ordinary issues of politics. However much Smith may wish to avoid it, Prohibition will make him its target, and religious intolerance will play its part, though those who indulge in it will adopt some other ostensible reason for their hostility.

Recently the Secretary of Commerce promulgated an order in the Census Bureau that hereafter the segregation of the Negro members of his staff must cease. Instead of being grouped in rooms by themselves, these enumerators, clerks and statisticians are scattered among the white men doing similar work. That simple order, defensible on the ground of technical efficiency, makes no great commotion in the North, where most of Hoover’s votes must come from if he is nominated, but in the South it has caused dismay.

Speculation as to why Hoover did this is answered by the phrase the “first skirmish of the battle of Harlem.” No Republican candidate can afford to ignore the basic importance of New York with its electoral vote of more than one-sixth the number necessary for victory. The political diagnosticians figure that it was Harlem that was most in mind when the Negroes were relieved from the burden of segregation in these Government offices.

So the contest may hinge largely on the two amendments to the Constitution which are most flagrantly disregarded—the Eighteenth [Prohibition] and the Fifteenth [that gave black men the vote].

Coming to the West we encounter the farm revolt and hear speeches to the effect that no candidate who has opposed that chapter in the farm Bible can carry the prairie state. The farm folks are bitter now, but, unless all precedents are valueless, when Election Day comes around they will vote a straight Republican ticket. Hoover might lose Illinois to Smith, not because the Workshop farmers blame him for their troubles but because Illinois is really a wet state.

Feeling of voters against “anti establishment” candidates? The pessimism expressed here is due to the tremendous damage done to the country in the Teapot Dome Scandal, in which private oil interests were able to bribe their way into drilling public lands for oil, thanks to pro-active corruption within the Harding administration. This writer — like so many of us today — has grown to hold the chattering class of political pundits in utter scorn, and the voters are defying their every prediction. The more things change . . .

May 18, 1928

A Raised Country (Boston Globe)

Wherever primary votes are counted Hoover and Smith swamp all their would-be rivals. This is amazing when one looks back eight years at Mr. Hoover and four years at Mr. Smith. With the politicians of 1920 Herbert Hoover was a joke, he was an able man but laughed at him as a campaigner for the presidency. The Chicago convention proved the correctness of their estimate, at that time. Mr. Hoover had not made any impressive showing in politics before the convention and when that body got to work he was simply "not in the running."

Mr. Smith was classified as a trouble maker for the democratic party. All the dopesters declared that there could never be democratic harmony until the presidential bee had ceased buzzing in Al Smith's brown derby hat.

A profound change has taken place. Mr. Smith is so far in the lead that he seems to have outdistanced the field. Senator Thomas J. Walsh deserves well of his country, but polls very few votes in most primaries and was third in California where he had been entered to put Mr. Smith out of the running.

Neither Secretary Hoover nor Gov. Smith has changed. The secretary of commerce is the same efficient public servant he was in 1920. The governor of New York is maintaining his record as an outstanding executive of the largest and richest state of the Union.

It must be that public taste has been elevated. It was not so long ago that a deep pessimism brooded over everything. When a change for the better was suggested it was met by incredulity. Nobody seemed to believe that public life could be improved.

There is no more depressing chapter in American history than that which began when the Ohio gang reached Washington as a result of the 1920 election. When the truth about their activities first became known the reaction was pitifully slight. It almost seemed that nobody cared.

The message of the primaries shows that a great many men and women have come to be concerned for their country.

Meanwhile, closer to home, local editors explain why even though Prohibition has become a joke of sorts, “Mr. Smith” is not going to Washington, especially not with any help from staunchly Republican, mostly dry and still anti-Catholic Delaware County.

August 17, 1928

Democratic county chairman and editor of the Walton Reporter. 'Prohibition is a dodge by which the men fool the women,' went on Mr. White. 'They make the women think there isn't so much drinking as before. The women are satisfied and the men get their liquor just the same.' Arthur C. Wyer, editor of the Delaware Express at Delhi, believes Delaware will poll up to 22,000. Reasons for Smith's weakness in Delaware were convincingly cited by Wyer; "Smith has never been strong in Del- aware," he said, "partly because the county is made up pretty much of Scotch Presbyterian covenanters. They look askance at Rome; and they're dry."

And so, despite his reserved, practically non-existent campaigning style, Herbert Hoover won in a landslide that November. Had Al Smith been a Protestant, or pro-Prohibition, or both, one wonders if our country would have had a “New Deal” that much sooner, or , perhaps, never had one at all?

November 9, 1928

Receives Electoral Vote of Forty States

Tuesday's election was a veritable Republican landslide, Herbert C. Hoover of California having been swept into the presidential office by the largest electoral vote ever given to any candidate of one of the major parties, except in 1912, when Wilson ran against a divided Republican party.

And now we come to an election where the personality profiles were switched: in 1948, New York Governor Thomas Dewey was the heads-on favorite to win over incumbent Harry Truman. Urbane and reserved — and far ahead — Dewey was advised to be (and was by nature) an extremely cautious campaigner, uttering benign platitudes and taking no strong positions.

Making things even more challenging for the down-in-the-polls President were not one, but two third party challenges, one on the left flank by Henry A. Wallace of the Progressive Party and one on the right from anti-civil rights factions, led by Strom Thurmond.

Truman, in direct contrast to Dewey, fought every step of the way, travelling all over the country, barnstorming in his robust, plain-spoken “Give ‘em hell, Harry!” style and railing against a “do nothing” GOP congress. He was so behind in the polls that many papers on election day went ahead and printed headlines that Dewey had won.

But pollsters back then mistakenly believed that voters made up their minds decisively during the conventions and they were too slow to catch up to Truman’s gradual but relentless surge. So they too played a large part in misguiding the press about the impact of campaign styles and mood of the country that led to the greatest political upset in American history.

Here in the Catskills, the drama of misprinted papers missed us entirely: by the time the News went to press, the November 2 election results had been clarified.

November 5, 1948

Township and County Do Not Join in Landslide for Truman Tuesday

Election day in the Catskills was quiet, the weather was perfect and there was a large vote. There was considerable activity on the part of Republican workers. But Democrats, believing they had no chance, made no effort to get voters to the polls. In fact, some good Democrats went hunting and did not bother to vote so well had they been sold on the impossibility of the election of President Truman. The following are the results of Tuesday's election in Delaware county: President — Dewey (R) 14,225; Truman (D), 4,689; Truman (L), 176; Wallace (ALP), 220.

Find your own winners, losers and close races in our archives at nyshistoricnewspapers.org/middletown.

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