Greatest upset in US elections
The visit to the cemetery on All Saints’ Day/All Souls’ Day, has been a beautiful tradition dating back to the Spanish era. It is our act of remembrance and homage to our dearly departed. But it is also a practice whose time has long been overtaken by the changes and developments in our society. For more than 20 years, I have advocated that we avoid the cemeteries at this time of the year and instead make our visit on special days of our loved ones. A few of my readers agreed with me. They thought it was a good idea but the practice continues to be observed by many.COVID-19 changed the way we do a lot of things. Let us use this opportunity to re-think how best to honor our departed loved ones.
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Tomorrow, Americans go to the polls to elect their President for the next four years. The great majority of national poll surveys give the challenger, former vice president Joe Biden, a commanding lead over the incumbent Donald Trump. But remembering the 2016 election where Hillary Clinton also led Trump in most poll surveys but lost in the Electoral College tally, no one is counting out Trump who continues to drive his campaign in key swing states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania—without a mask—hoping to replicate his victory in 2016.
Perhaps, the greatest upset recorded in any US presidential election was in 1948. President Harry Truman who succeeded President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the presidency after FDR died of cerebral hemorrhage, was running for re-election. His Republican opponent, New York Gov. Thomas Dewey, was making his second attempt to win the White House after losing to Roosevelt in 1944. Truman’s running mate was Sen. Alben Barkley of Kentucky while Dewey was paired with California Gov. Earl Warren who would eventually end up as chief justice of the US Supreme Court.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough in his book “Truman” provides us with interesting details of the campaign that was probably the last to utilize the train as the main vehicle for moving about the country.
A private railroad car named Ferdinand Magellan was outfitted for the exclusive use of the President. Truman traveled by train some 21,928 miles — as far as the voyage of the explorer Magellan — going cross-country to the West Coast, touring the Midwest then hitting population centers in the Northeast in what became famous as the “Whistlestop Campaign” with the battle cry “Give ‘em hell, Harry.” Governor Dewey’s campaign train was the “Dewey Victory Special” and the dominant Republican strategy was to say as little as possible. “When you are leading, don’t talk,” he would say to fellow GOP politicians. The thing to do was not to stir up any controversy.
Perhaps, Dewey was right. At the start of the campaign, a survey report showed Dewey leading Truman by a resounding 51-37 percent. An Elmo Roper poll — a widely-respected outfit sampling public opinion—showed Dewey by an unbeatable 44-31 percent. The organization decided to discontinue further polling since “the outcome was already so obvious.” A few weeks before election day, a poll of highly-regarded political writers was taken on who they thought would win the election. The vote was unanimous—50 for Dewey, 0 for Truman. Among professional gamblers, the betting odds against Truman were 15, sometimes 30 to 1.
In the end, “the Man from Missouri“ defeated Thomas Dewey by more than 2 million votes. Truman carried 28 states with a total of 303 electoral college votes, while Dewey won in 16 states with 189 electoral college votes. It was the greatest upset in American political history. McCullough reported “not one polling body had been correct in its forecast. Not a single radio commentator or newspaper columnist or any of the hundreds of reporters who covered the campaign, had called it right. Every expert had been proven wrong and the people had made fools of those supposedly in the know.”
One of the most famous pictures to come out of the campaign was that of President Truman holding aloft a copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune with the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.” Perhaps, First Lady Bess Truman said it best when she returned to the White House and told the staff, “It looks like you’re going to have to put up with us for another four years.”
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