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Happy Birthday Theodore Roosevelt

On October 27, 1858 (158 years ago today) Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was born in a four-story brownstone at 28 East 20th Street, in New York City. His parents were Theodore "Thee" Roosevelt, Sr. and the former Martha Stewart "Mittie" Bulloch. He may be one of the best examples of what Malcolm Gladwell calls a "David" (in his book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants) because TR (as he was called, he hated to be called "Teddy") went from being a very sickly child, to become President of the United States. He was famous for his exuberant personality, his boundless energy, his range of interests and achievements, his leadership of the Progressive Movement, as well as his "cowboy" style and persona.

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Roosevelt suffered from asthma as a child, too ill to even go to school. He was home schooled and studied natural history. To overcome his physical weakness, he embraced what he called "a strenuous life. The future president, who hated being called "Teddy", attended Harvard University, where he studied biology, was a boxer, and developed an interest in naval affairs. In 1881, one year out of Harvard, he was elected to the New York State Assembly, where he became a leader of the reform or "progressive" faction of his Republican Party. The book he wrote in 1882 entitled The Naval War of 1812 created his professional reputation as a serious historian, but he would not limit his writing to just one subject. He also wrote books about hunting, the outdoors, current political issues, and frontier history.

On Valentine's Day of 1884, tragedy struck when Roosevelt's first wife Alice, and his mother Martha both died on the same day. Devastated, he temporarily left politics and went to the frontier, becoming a rancher and a Deputy Sheriff in the "Badlands" of the Dakotas. When the severe winter of 1886-1887 wiped out his herd of cattle and most of his $80,000 investment, he returned to New York City, where he ran for mayor in 1886, finishing third with 60,000 votes. He rebounded from his doldrums, marrying his childhood friend Edith Carow in 1886. He then served as a Civil Service Commissioner and became President of the Board of New York City Police Commissioners in 1895. During his two years in this post, Roosevelt brought in significant reforms to the police department, which was previously reputed to be one of the most corrupt in America.

The Spanish–American War broke out in 1898 while Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He promptly resigned and formed the Rough Riders – a volunteer cavalry regiment that fought in Cuba. Returning home as a war hero, he was elected Governor of New York in 1898 and in 1900 was nominated for vice president on a ticket with President William McKinley, Jr. in 1900 on a platform of high tariffs, the gold standard, imperialism, prosperity at home and victory abroad.

In 1901, President McKinley was assassinated and Roosevelt became President. The new President attempted to move the Republican Party toward Progressivism, including trust busting (trusts were what we would call monopolies) and increased regulation of businesses. Roosevelt became the first person elected to a term in his own right in 1904 after having ascended to the Presidency from the Vice-Presidency upon the death of his predecessor. He won the largest percentage of the popular vote since the uncontested election of 1820. Roosevelt coined the phrase "Square Deal" to describe his domestic agenda. As President he promoted the conservation movement and on the world stage, Roosevelt was characterized by his slogan, "Speak softly and carry a big stick". He was the force behind the completion of the Panama Canal and he sent the US Fleet on a world tour to demonstrate American power. He also negotiated an end to the Russo-Japanese War, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

At the end of his second term, Roosevelt promoted his friend William Howard Taft for the 1908 Republican nomination. He toured Africa and Europe. On his return in 1910 he broke bitterly with President Taft on a number of issues including the government's approach to big business. In the 1912 election Roosevelt tried unsuccessfully to block Taft's renomination. He decided to run for president as a third party candidate for the Bull Moose Party that stood for progressive reforms. During the campaign he was shot while speaking in Milwaukee, but chose to finish his speech with the bullet in his chest before getting medical attention. In the election, he got more votes than Taft, but lost the election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

After losing the 1912 election, Roosevelt led a major expedition to the Amazon jungles but contracted diseases which ruined his health. When the US entered the first world war in 1917, he asked President Woodrow Wilson to allow him to raise a regiment to fight in France. Wilson politely declined the offer. Theodore Roosevelt's youngest son Quentin, a pilot with the American forces in France, was shot down behind German lines in 1918 at the age of 20. Quentin's death saddened him greatly.

Many believed that Roosevelt would take another run for the Presidency in the election of 1920. But early in the morning of January 6, 1919, Roosevelt unexpectedly died in his sleep from a blood clot. Upon receiving word of his death, his son Archie telegraphed his siblings simply saying, "The old lion is dead." Woodrow Wilson's vice president, Thomas R. Marshall, said: "Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight." His face, alongside George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, is carved in the granite rock of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

October Surprises: 1976-Ford vs. Carter

In 1976 the odds were stacked against Gerald Ford in his bid to be elected as President of the United States in his own right. Ford had become President following the resignation of Richard Nixon on August 9, 1974. At first there was considerable public support for Ford, who was perceived as an honest breath of fresh air after the many transgressions of Nixon's administration were exposed. But when Ford pardoned Nixon on September 8, his approval rating dropped significantly and many assumed that a corrupt bargain had been struck between the two Republicans.


Things didn't get any easier for Ford as the 1976 election approached. He fended off a serious challenge for his party's nomination by former California Governor Ronald Reagan. It looked like the election would be a cake walk for the Democrats, who nominated Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter as their candidate. Carter campaigned on being a Washington outsider who promised to restore honor and integrity to the White House.

The election would turn out to be much closer than anticipated. Ford took advantage of the fact that 1976 was the United States Bicentennial. Ford received a lot of positive national media coverage in connection with bicentennial events, including the Washington, D.C. fireworks display, held on the Fourth of July. The event was presided over by Ford and was televised nationally. Three days later, on July 7, 1976, the president and First Lady hosted a White House state dinner for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, which was televised nationally on the PBS network. Ford's strategy was for him to appear presidential, rather than a politician who was running for office. He did not actively campaign until October of that year.


Carter campaigned as a reformer who was unsullied by any political scandal. This appealed to many voters, following the Watergate scandal that had led to Nixon's resignation. Although Ford was personally unconnected with Watergate, his pardon of Nixon had caused his popularity to plummet. Ford's refusal to explain his reasons for pardoning Nixon at the time did not help matters.

After the Democratic National Convention, Carter held a 33-point lead over Ford in the polls. But as the campaign continued, the race became much closer. During the campaign Playboy magazine published a controversial interview with Carter in which Carter admitted to having "lusted in my heart" for women other than his wife. This remark cut into Carter's support among women and evangelical Christians. Then on September 23, Ford performed well in what was the first presidential debate, the first to be televised nationally since 1960. Polls taken after the debate showed that most viewers felt that Ford had won the debate. Carter was also hurt by Ford's charges that he lacked the necessary experience to be an effective national leader, and that Carter was vague on many issues.

But it was an October blunder that halted Ford's momentum. During the second presidential debate on October 6, Ford said, in answer to a question, "there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration." He also said that he did not that the people of Poland "consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union." He made the same claim about the people of Yugoslavia and Romania. Ford refused to retract his statement for almost a week after the debate. Voters perceived this a either a lack of understanding or a denial of the true state of world affairs. As a result his surge in the polls stalled and Carter was able to maintain a slight lead in the polls.

Then, at a vice-presidential debate, the first ever formal one of its kind, between Bob Dole and Walter Mondale, Ford's running mate Bob Dole committed another gaffe. Dole claimed that military unpreparedness on the part of Democratic presidents was responsible for all of the wars the U.S. had fought in the 20th century. Dole, who was a World War II veteran, said that in every 20th-century war from World War I to the Vietnam War, a Democrat had been President. Dole then pointed out that the number of U.S. casualties in "Democrat wars" was roughly equal to the population of Detroit. Many voters felt that Dole's criticism was disingenuous and unfair. Dole would remark that he regretted the comment and that it hurt the Republican ticket.

In the closing days of the campaign, Ford made a series of popular television appearances with Joe Garagiola, Sr., a retired baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals and a well-known announcer for NBC Sports. Garagiola and Ford appeared in a number of shows in several large cities. During the show Garagiola would ask Ford questions about his life and beliefs. Television critics called these appearances the "Joe and Jerry Show." These appearances were very well received and seemed to help Ford as election day approached.

Ford managed to close the remaining gap in the polls and by election day the race was judged to be even. Election day was November 2, and it took most of that night and the following morning to determine the winner. It wasn't until 3:30 am EST, that NBC declared that Carter had carried Mississippi, giving him more than the 270 electoral votes needed to win.


Carter defeated Ford by two percentage points in the national popular vote. The electoral vote was the closest since 1916. Carter carried 23 states with 297 electoral votes, while Ford won 27 states and 240 electoral votes. (One "faithless elector" from Washington state, was pledged to Ford, but voted for Reagan). Carter's victory was due in large measure to his near-sweep of the South. (He lost only Virginia and Oklahoma.) Carter also eked out narrow victories in New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Ford did well in the West, carrying every state except Hawaii. The most tightly contested state in the election was Oregon, which Ford won by 1,713 votes.

October Surprises: 1944: FDR vs. Dewey

In 1944, the second world war was in its fifth year. It appeared to be drawing to a close and had turned in the Allies favor, but before the June 6th D-Day Normandy Landing, this wasn't quite so clear. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was coming to the end of his third term and the strain that the presidency and the war had taken on his health was showing.

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In the previous election, the issue had been been whether or not Roosevelt should break longstanding tradition and run for a third term. That ship had sailed by 1944, by which time Roosevelt was very popular. The decision of whether or not he would seek a fourth term in office was really up to him. He encountered virtually no opposition for his party's nomination, and the real contest at the 1944 Democratic Convention that year was who would the party choose for the number two spot on the ticket. Democrats had lost trust in Vice-President Henry Wallace, who was seen as too far left and too eccentric. Missouri Senator Harry Truman, who had been the Chairman of a senate committee investigating wartime fraud, was chosen to replace Wallace.

As 1944 began, the frontrunners for the Republican nomination appeared to be Wendell Willkie, the party's 1940 nominee, Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, the leader of the party's conservative wing, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey, the leader of the party's moderate eastern establishment, General Douglas MacArthur, then serving as an Allied commander in the Pacific theater of the war, and former Minnesota Governor Harold Stassen, then serving as a U.S. naval officer in the Pacific. Taft surprised many by announcing that he would not seek the nomination. He threw his support behind fellow conservative, Governor John W. Bricker of Ohio. Willkie withdraw as a candidate after performing poorly in the primaries. He died suddenly in early October 1944, without endorsing anyone for president. At the 1944 Republican National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, Dewey was nominated for president on the first ballot and he chose the conservative Bricker as his running mate.

In the general election the Republicans campaigned against the New Deal. They advocated for a smaller government and a less-regulated economy, arguing that the end of the war was in sight. Roosevelt's continuing popularity seemed to be an obstacle to victory for the GOP. To counter this, the Republicans made an issue out of FDR's poor health. FDR was looking very run down and rumors of his poor health were spreading. His weight loss and haggard appearance was apparent to all, both within his party and among his opponents. His hands shook so badly that Harry Truman recalled that Roosevelt was unable to make his own coffee. FDR’s physician, Ross McIntire, led efforts to a cover-up FDR’s illnesses from the voting public. To avoid being seen in public, Roosevelt made great use of radio. While preparing to oversee a military exercise at San Diego’s Camp Pendleton in July 1944, FDR had a seizure. This happened just as the Democratic National Convention was taking place. Roosevelt delivered his acceptance speech to the convention over the radio and only a handful of his closest aides knew about his seizure.

To silence doubters on this issue and surprise his critics, Roosevelt insisted on making a vigorous campaign swing in October. He rode in an open car through city streets, including one memorable address on a very rainy night in New York City. A special ramp was constructed for Roosevelt's car to drive up so that he didn't have to get out of the vehicle to speak.

One of his most memorable speeches during the campaign was made by Roosevelt to a group of labor union leaders. The speech was carried on national radio. In the speech he ridiculed Republican claims that his administration was corrupt and wasteful with tax money. He lampooned a Republican claim that he had sent a US Navy warship to pick up his Scottish Terrier Fala in Alaska, telling his audience. "Fala was furious" at such rumors. His audience reacted with loud laughter and applause.

Dewey gave a blistering partisan speech in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, a few days later on national radio, in which he accused Roosevelt of being "indispensable" to corrupt big-city Democratic organizations and American Communists. However, this was ineffective, as American battlefield successes in Europe and the Pacific during the campaign translated into support for Roosevelt. The liberation of Paris in August 1944 and the successful Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines in October 1944, made Roosevelt unbeatable.

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Throughout the campaign, Roosevelt led Dewey in all the polls by varying margins and the Roosevelt campaign always seemed to find a way to distract voters from any suggestion that Roosevelt was in too poor health to be president, or that he had served for too long. On election day, FDR won a comfortable victory over his Republican challenger. Roosevelt won 36 states for 432 electoral votes, while Dewey won 12 states and 99 electoral votes. In the popular vote Roosevelt won 25,612,916 (53.4%) votes to Dewey's 22,017,929 (45.9%)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated as president for the fourth and final time on January 20, 1945, just 10 days before his 63rd birthday. Less than three months later, he was dead.
In the time leading up to the 1864 election, Abraham Lincoln thought he would be a one term president. The war was taking longer than everyone had expected, and the mounting casualties made the Democratic Party message of a negotiated peace sound more appealing. The Republican Party was split between the Radical Republicans and the moderates. Some Republicans like Salmon P. Chase, Benjamin Wade, and Horace Greeley, opposed Lincoln's re-nomination on the grounds that he could not win. Chase had visions of becoming president himself.

For much of 1864, Lincoln himself believed he had little chance of being re-elected. Confederate forces had triumphed at the Battle of Mansfield, the Battle of the Crater, and the Battle of Cold Harbor and the war was continuing to take a very high toll in terms of casualties. During three months in the summer of 1864, over 65,000 Union soldiers were killed, wounded, or missing-in-action. In comparison, there had been 108,000 Union casualties in the first three years. The prospect of a long and bloody war started to make the idea of "peace at all cost" offered by the Democrats look more appealing.

On August 23, Lincoln wrote the following: “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President-elect as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.” Lincoln folded the note, sealed it, and asked the members of his Cabinet to sign the back of the paper without reading it. They did so.

As it will this year, the presidential election of 1864 was be held on November 8th. In order to appeal to those who supported the war, the Democrats nominated General George B. McClellan as their candidate. Like the Republicans, the Democratic Party was also split between War Democrats and Peace Democrats. Moderate Democrats supported the war against the Confederacy, but they were now calling for a negotiated peace. Radical Peace Democrats known as Copperheads believed that the war was a failure. They favored an immediate end to the war. McClellan was seen as a strong candidate who could unify the party. The pro-war McClellan was selected as the party's candidate for president and anti-war Representative George H. Pendleton was selected as the party's candidate for vice-president.

An event known as the Radical Democracy Convention was held on May 29, 1864. General John C. Frémont, who had been the first presidential candidate for the Republican Party in 1856, was selected as their candidate. But Frémont withdrew from the race in September 1864. In his statement, Frémont declared that winning the Civil War was too important to divide the Republican vote. Although he still felt that Lincoln was not going far enough, the defeat of McClellan was of the greatest necessity. Frémont also brokered a political deal with Lincoln in which Lincoln removed Postmaster General Montgomery Blair from office.

Perhaps the thing that saved Lincoln's bid for re-election most was the fall of Atlanta on September 2. It turned out to be a September surprise, rather than an October surprise, but in those days news traveled a lot slower than it does today. On August 31, General William Tecumseh Sherman's army captured the railroad track from Macon top Atlanta. With his supply lines fully severed, Confederate General John Bell Hood pulled his troops out of Atlanta the next day, September 1, destroying supply depots as he left to prevent them from falling into Union hands. He also set fire to eighty-one loaded ammunition cars, which led to a conflagration watched by hundreds. The next day, on September 2, Mayor James Calhoun, along with a committee of leading formally surrendered the city. Sherman sent a telegram to Washington on September 3, reading, "Atlanta is ours, and fairly won". He then established his headquarters there on September 7, where he stayed for over two months. On November 15, the army departed east toward Savannah for what became known as "Sherman's March to the Sea".

The fall of Atlanta and the overall success of this military campaign were extensively covered by Northern newspapers, and were a boon to Northern morale and to President Lincoln's political standing. Suddenly the Democratic Party's call for negotiations with the Confederacy on the subject of a potential truce was not as popular. The capture of Atlanta and Hood's burning of military facilities as he evacuated showed that a successful conclusion of the war was in sight, weakening support for a truce. Republicans, under the banner of the National Union Party, campaigned on the slogan "Don't change horses in the middle of a stream." Many war Democrats joined them.

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Only 25 states participated in the election, since 11 Southern states had declared secession from the Union. Three new states participated in a presidential election for the first time: Kansas, West Virginia, and Nevada. The reconstructed portions of Tennessee and Louisiana chose presidential electors, although Congress did not count their votes. Just for added measure, Lincoln arranged for leave for Union soldiers in those states where they were required to be physically present in the state to vote on election day. Lincoln received 2,218,388 votes (55.0%) and 212 electoral votes. McClellan received 1,812,807 votes (45.0%) and 21 electoral votes. McClellan won just three states: Kentucky, Delaware, and his home state of New Jersey. Lincoln won in every state he carried in 1860 except New Jersey, and also carried a state won four years earlier by Stephen Douglas (Missouri), one carried by John C. Breckenridge (Maryland) and all three newly admitted states (Kansas, Nevada and West Virginia). Soldiers were allowed to vote in the field if they came from the following states: California, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. Out of the 40,247 army votes cast, Lincoln received 30,503 (75.8%) and McClellan 9,201 (22.9%).

October Surprises: 1940: FDR vs. Willkie

In 1940, the Republican Party nominated a candidate who was a wealthy businessman who had never been elected to public office. (Sound familiar?) He was running against a president who was seeking to do something no president had ever done before: win a third term in office.

All the way up to the summer of 1940, it was uncertain whether or not Roosevelt would break a longstanding tradition and run for an unprecedented third term as president. The two-term limit for presidents was not yet part of the U.S. Constitution, but it was a respected tradition that had been begun by George Washington when he refused to run for a third term in 1796. Roosevelt refused to give a definitive statement as to his willingness to be a candidate again. He even told some Democratic party contenders for the presidents, such as James Farley, that he would not run for a third term. But as Nazi Germany swept through Western Europe and as it looked like Great Britain was and the rest of Europe was threatened by the Nazi menace, Roosevelt decided that he had to remain in office in order to see the nation safely past the Nazi threat. He was easily nominated at the party's convention in Chicago that summer.

In 1940 the major political parties still selected their candidates at nominating conventions, although some states held primaries by this time. Only 9 states held primaries and Wendell Willkie didn't win any of them.

The 1940 Republican National Convention, held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, found the party deeply divided between the party's isolationists, who wanted to stay out of the war at all costs, and the party's interventionists, who felt that Great Britain and her allies needed to be helped to fight the Nazis. The three leading candidates for the Republican nomination were all isolationists to varying degrees. The three frontrunners were Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg of Michigan, and District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey of New York. Taft was the leader of the conservative, isolationist wing of the Republican Party, while Dewey, the District Attorney for Manhattan, had risen to national fame as the "Gangbuster" prosecutor who had sent numerous infamous Mafia figures to prison, most notably Lucky Luciano, the organized-crime boss of New York City. Dewey had won most of the presidential primaries in the spring of 1940. Vandenberg, the senior Republican in the Senate, was the "favorite son" candidate of the Michigan delegation and was considered a possible compromise candidate if Taft or Dewey faltered. Former President Herbert Hoover was also spoken of as a compromise candidate.

None of the candidates were that appealing to the convention delegates. Taft's outspoken isolationism and opposition to any American involvement in the European war convinced many Republican leaders that he could not win in the general election, especially after France fell to the Nazis in May 1940. At 38, Dewey was seen as too young and inexperienced, especially in matters of foreign policy. Vandenberg was also an isolationist and his lethargic campaign never gained any traction. Hoover still bore the stigma of having presided over the Great Depression.

Wendell Willkie was a Wall Street industrialist who had never run for public office. He was a native of Indiana and a former Democrat who had supported Roosevelt in the 1932 election. He had first come to public attention as a leading critic of Roosevelt's attempt to break up electrical power monopolies. Willkie was the chief executive officer of the Commonwealth & Southern Corporation, which provided electrical power to customers in eleven states. In 1933, when Roosevelt created the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which promised to provide flood control and cheap electricity to the impoverished people of the Tennessee River Valley, this initiative threatened the economic viability of Willkie's company and this led Willkie to criticize and oppose the TVA. Willkie argued that government had unfair advantages over private corporations, and should not competing directly against them.

Willkie stood apart from his competition because he was an outspoken advocate of aid to the Allies, especially Britain. This position won him the support of many Republicans on the East Coast, who disagreed with their party's isolationist stance. Many of the leading newspapers supported Willkie. When the German Army invaded France in May 1940, sympathy for the embattled Europeans increased and this aided Willkie's candidacy. Fueled by his favorable media attention, Willkie won over many of the convention delegates. Hundreds of thousands of telegrams urging support for Willkie poured in, many from "Willkie Clubs" that had sprung up across the country. Millions more signed petitions circulating everywhere. At the 1940 Republican National Convention itself, keynote speaker Harold Stassen, the Governor of Minnesota, announced his support for Willkie and became his official floor manager.

Dewey led on the first ballot, but steadily lost strength on each successive ballot. Both Taft and Willkie gained in strength on each ballot. Large states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York left Dewey and Vandenberg and switched to Willkie, giving him the victory on the sixth ballot.

Here is a video of Willkie from 1940 setting out his campaign platform:

Going into the election, polls between the two candidates for the major parties showed a very close race, though the polls indicated that if there was no war in Europe, voters preferred Willkie over Roosevelt. Willkie campaigned against Roosevelt's attempt to break the two-term presidential tradition. He told his audience, "if one man is indispensable, then none of us is free." Willkie also criticized what he claimed was the incompetence and waste in Roosevelt's New Deal welfare programs. He stated that as president he would keep most of Roosevelt's government programs, but would make them more efficient.

But many Americans continued to blame business leaders for the Great Depression. Democrats tried to portray Willkie as the face of "Big Business" and this hurt him with many working-class voters. Willkie bravely campaigned in industrial areas where Republicans were still blamed for causing the Great Depression and where Roosevelt was highly popular. He frequently had rotten fruit and vegetables thrown at him and was heckled by crowds, but he campaigned on undaunted.

Willkie accused Roosevelt of leaving the nation unprepared for war, but signs of Roosevelt's military buildup negated this as a major issue. Willkie then reversed his approach and charged Roosevelt with secretly planning to take the nation into World War II. This accusation had some success, but in response, Roosevelt promised that he would "not send American boys into any foreign wars."

Willkie tried to cut into Roosevelt's support by attempting to recover the support of African-American voters, a constituency which, at the time was traditionally Republican, but that had left the party to vote for Roosevelt after the Great Depression. Roosevelt came under criticism from African-American leaders for enabling the military's continued segregation. Willkie was campaigning on a strong civil rights platform. In October, less than a month before the election, an FDR press aide named Stephen Early attracted negative attention when he kneed an African-American police officer in the groin outside of Madison Square Garden in New York City. This became an issue among African-American voters. It was seen as an example of the double-standard treatment afforded to Washington insiders and an insult to African-Americans.

FDR responded quickly to control the damage to his campaign from this October surprise. He announced the creation of the Tuskegee Airmen, an African-American aerial fighting unit, shortly before the election. In addition, just days before the election, Roosevelt promoted Colonel Benjamin O. Davis Jr. to the rank of brigadier general, making him the first African-American to achieve that rank.


The move achieved its purpose as Roosevelt was able to salvage his support among African-American voters. On Election Day Roosevelt received 27.3 million votes to 22.3 million for Willkie. In the Electoral College, Roosevelt defeated Willkie by a margin of 449 to 82. Willkie ran strong in rural areas in the American Midwest, taking over 57% of the farm vote. But Roosevelt carried every American city with a population of more than 400,000 except for Cincinnati.

But despite the clarity of the victory, after the election FDR would say that Willkie had given him the toughest political fight of his life.

October Surprises: 2012-Obama vs. Romney

In 2012, it looked as if incumbent President Barack Obama might be vulnerable and the Republicans could possibly retake the White House. He had used considerable political capital passing the Affordable Care Act in his first term, and in the mid-term elections, control of the House of Representatives changed from the Democrats to the Republicans. Although the President's party usually loses congressional, statewide and local seats in a midterm elections, the 2010 midterm election season featured some of the biggest losses for the president's party since the Great Depression. The Republican Party gained 63 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, recapturing the majority, and making it the largest seat change since 1948. The Republicans gained six seats in the U.S. Senate, expanding its minority, and also gained 680 seats in state legislative races, to break the previous majority record of 628 set by Democrats in the post-Watergate elections of 1974. This left Republicans in control of 26 state legislatures, and 29 of the 50 State Governorships.


But going into the election, the Democrats had one significant advantage: while their nomination for president would not be contested, the Republicans would undergo a vicious battle, with whoever won coming out badly bruised politically. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney won the nomination, but had been severely attacked by the more conservative elements of his party.

When it became apparent that Romney would be the winner of the Republican race, Democrats were able to target their negative advertising against Romney, who was forced to focus on securing his party's nomination at the time, unlike his opponent. Romney was attacked for his record at Bain Capital, an investment firm that was criticized for increasing investor profits at the expense of middle-class workers who were laid off. Romney took a leave of absence from Bain Capital in February 1999 to manage the Salt Lake City Olympics, but ads from the Obama campaign falsely portrayed Romney as responsible for the activities of Bain Capital during that period. Romney's campaign cried foul and Romney personally demanded an apology, but the Obama campaign refused to do so.

In July 2012, Romney undertook an international trip as the presumptive nominee of the Republican party, visiting the United Kingdom, Israel, and Poland to meet heads of state, and also to raise funds. He experienced a number of gaffes on the trip, including comments critical of the readiness of the London 2012 Olympic Games. In Jerusalem, Romney discussed the possibility of a military strike against Iran with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. Coverage of the trip by most news media was negative. His overseas tour took him to the United Kingdom, Israel, and Poland.

On August 11, 2012 Romney officially announced Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his choice for Vice President. The 2012 Republican National Convention was held from August 27–30. It featured notable appearances by Ann Romney, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Clint Eastwood, and Mitt Romney. While Romney's overall polling gains from the GOP convention were modest, the convention did improve his "likability" rating, but President Obama received a larger bounce in his favor after the Democratic convention.

On September 11, 2012, the U.S. diplomatic missions in Cairo, Egypt and Benghazi, Libya were attacked. In her initial remarks to the press, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated, "I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today." Romney released a statement saying, "It's disgraceful that the Obama Administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks." By the following day, it was confirmed that the U.S. ambassador to Libya had been one of several Americans killed in the Benghazi attack. In a televised press conference and an interview, Romney said that the administration had been wrong to sympathize with the attackers and apologize for American values rather than to condemn the attackers' actions. Romney's remarks were widely criticized for appearing to try to gain political advantage from a national tragedy.

On September 17, Romney suffered an early "October surprise" when excerpts were broadcast from a video recorded on hidden camera. The video was published by Mother Jones and it showed Romney speaking at a private $50,000-a-plate fundraiser held at hedge fund manager Marc Leder's mansion in Boca Raton, Florida. The magazine learned of the video from James Earl Carter IV, a Democratic opposition researcher (and a grandson of former U.S. president Jimmy Carter). Scott Prouty, a bartender at the event, later revealed himself as the videographer. In the video, Romney responded to a question about his campaign strategy, making the following statement:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That's an entitlement. The government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. And I mean the president starts off with 48, 49, he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. So he'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. My job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is convince the 5–10% in the center that are independents, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy or not."

Here is a YouTube video of the remarks:

The Obama team quickly made the audio recording the center of a swing-state ad blitz that aired through October. In an interview with David Letterman shortly after the clip surfaced, President Obama quipped, “My expectation is that if you want to be president, you've got to work for everybody, not just for some.” Four months after the election, Romney told Fox News’ Chris Wallace in an interview four months after the election. “There’s no question that hurt and did real damage to my campaign.”

It looked as if Romney might rebound from the remarks. In his first general election debate against Obama on October 3 in Denver, Colorado on domestic topics, polls shortly after the debate, most people believe Romney did significantly better than Obama in the debate. Subsequent public opinion polls showed the debate had eliminated most of gains in the polls that Obama had made over Romney after the two parties' national conventions.

The second presidential debate was a Townhall on October 16. During the second debate, Romney was perceived to have struggled compared to his previous performance. Most polls found that the majority of voters believed Obama had done better. The third and final debate between Romney and Obama was held two weeks before election day, on October 23 in Boca Raton, Florida. Once again, more viewers felt Obama had won the debate according to polls.


As the election hit the home stretch, Hurricane Sandy hit the New England coast a week before the election. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, one of Mitt Romney's leading supporters, praised President Barack Obama and his reaction to the hurricane and toured storm-damaged areas of his state with the president. Christie shared photo ops wit Obama, making it appear that Christie was now endorsing Obama. According to Karl Rove and Bill Clinton, the hurricane and its aftermath ended up helping Obama. It drew attention away from the campaigns and made Obama appear both bipartisan and "presidential". This was the final October surprise for Romney.

On November 6, 2012, Obama was re-elected for his second term as President of the United States. He won 332 electoral votes, two states short of his 2008 victory. Obama won 26 states and the District of Columbia, while Romney won 24 states. Obama received 65,915,795 votes (51.1%) while Romney received 60,933,504 (47.2%).

October Surprises: 1916-Wilson vs. Hughes

A century ago in 1916, Democrat Woodrow Wilson was running for re-election as President. Four years previously, he had ended a four election string of White House victories for the Republicans, largely from being the beneficiary of a split in the GOP. Incumbent President William Howard Taft and his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt split the Republican vote, with Roosevelt running as the candidate for the Progressive Party (also known as the "Bull Moose" Party), supported by the progressives in the Republican ranks. Taft ran as the party's official candidate, but his support came from the conservative wing of the party. When the votes were counted on election day in 1912, Wilson won handily, with Taft finishing a distant third.


Four years later, the Republican had seen the folly of their ways and wisely realized that the only was to defeat Wilson was to put up a united front. Roosevelt was largely responsible for healing the party schism, as he declined to run for the Progressive Party and instead backed the Republian nominee for President, Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes, who had been serving on the court since 1910. Hughes had been out of politics for six years and therefore had not offended anyone in the last election. He won the nomination on the third ballot. Former Vice-President Charles W. Fairbanks was nominated as his running mate. Hughes was the only Supreme Court Justice to be nominated for president by a major political party.

That Hughes ended up losing the election was not so much due to an October surprise, as it was to an October mistake. Although the Progressive Party nominated Roosevelt as their candidate, he telegraphed the convention and declared that he could not accept the nomination and would be endorsing Republican nominee Hughes for the Presidency. Wilson and the Democrats ran their campaign around the slogan, "He Kept Us out of War". A world war had broken out in Europe in 1914 and Roosevelt and others in the Republican Party wanted to see the United States enter the war on the side of the allies, as they eventually did in 1917. But Wilson resisted having the nation join in the war. He said that a Republican victory would result in a two-front war with both Mexico and Germany. Hughes downplayed the issue of the war and instead campaigned on a program of greater mobilization and preparedness. There was not a common consensus in the country on whether or not America should go to war. On the one hand, many Americans came to see the Germans Empire as the villain in the war, following news of atrocities committed by the Germans in Belgium in 1914, and the sinking of the passenger liner RMS Lusitania in May of 1915. On the other hand, many German-Americans did not want to see their new country go to war against their mother country, and many Irish-Americans were not in support of aiding the British.

Wilson appeared to have been successful in persuading the Germans to suspend unrestricted submarine warfare. Hughes criticized Wilson for his military interventions in Mexico, where the U.S. was supporting various factions in the Mexican civil war. Hughes also attacked Wilson for his support of various "pro-labor" laws, such as limiting the workday to eight hours. He argued that this was harmful to business interests. This did not sit well with progressives in both parties, but Hughes was helped by securing the unwavering support of Theodore Roosevelt, and by the fact that the Republicans were still the nation's majority party, and this time they were uniting behind one candidate.

But in October, Hughes made a key mistake while campaigning in California in October, just prior to the election. Hughes made a campaign swing through the state, but he would not meet with the powerful Republican Governor Hiram Johnson. Johnson was a progressive and in 1912 he was Roosevelt's running mate on the Progressive Party ticket. Johnson was very popular in his state and he mistrusted Hughes, who he viewed as more aligned with the party's conservative wing. When Hughes refused to mend this fence by meeting with Johnson and seeking his support, Johnson took this as a snub and never gave Hughes his full endorsement. As it turned out, California had enough electoral votes by this time to tip the balance in the election. It had elected Johnson as its Governor and later as its Senator because of his progressive leanings, and as between Hughes and Wilson, Wilson was generally viewed as the more progressive of the two candidates. Johnson's support and endorsement was seen as crucial to winning California for the Republicans. But Hughes believed that he did not need Johnson's endorsement and that the Republicans would win California without the Governor's help. He was almost correct about that.

Going into the election, Wilson was not optimistic about his chances for victory. With the war raging in Europe, Wilson thought that if he lost the election it would be better for his opponent to begin his administration straight away, instead of waiting until inauguration day, which at that time wasn't until March. Wilson came up with a plan to use the order of presidential succession so that Hughes could take over the Presidency as soon as the result of the election was clear. The plan was for Wilson to appoint Hughes to the post of Secretary of State. Wilson and Vice President Marshall would then resign. At the time, the Secretary of State was next in the line of succession to the presidency, so Hughes would become President immediately upon the resignation of Wilson and Marshall. But as things turned out, Wilson won re-election, so the plan was never needed.

The result was exceptionally close and the outcome remained in doubt for several days, partially because of the wait for returns from California. Without California, Wilson had won 29 states and 264 electoral votes. Hughes had won 18 states and 254 electoral votes. Whoever won California would become President. The electoral vote was one of the closest in U.S. history. When California's votes were finally tallied, Wilson received 466,289 votes (46.65%) and Hughes received 462,516 votes (46.27%). With the win, Wilson took 30 states for 277 electoral votes, while Hughes won 18 states and 254 electoral votes.


According to a story told about the 1916 election, Charles Evans Hughes went to bed on election night believing that he was the newly elected president. When a reporter tried to telephone him the next morning to get his reaction to Wilson's comeback, his butler answered the phone and told the reporter that "the president is asleep". The reporter replied, "When he wakes up, tell him he isn't the president."
The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, more commonly known as the Al Smith Dinner, is an annual white tie fundraising event held for Catholic charities. It's goal is to raise money for the support of the neediest children of the Archdiocese of New York, regardless of race, creed, or color. It is held at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on the third Thursday of October, and it is organized by the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation in honor of Al Smith, the former Governor of New York and the first Catholic presidential candidate. The dinner is hosted by the Archbishop of New York.

The first dinner was in 1945, the year after Al Smith's death. In presidential election years it is generally the last event at which the two U.S. presidential candidates share a stage before the election. Since 1960, when Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy were speakers, it has been a stop for the two main presidential candidates and this year was no exception. Last night (October 20, 2016), Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton both spoke at the dinner, an event usually intended to be an exercise in campaign humility, collegiality, civility and self-deprecation.

At this year's dinner, Trump, the Republican candidate, spoke first. He jokingly alluded to his being Christ-like, saying that he was just another carpenter working for his father in his youth. Perhaps his funniest line was a reference to accusations that his wife Melania had plagiarized a speech given by first lady Michelle Obama. He talked about the “biased” news media and said “You want the proof? Michelle Obama gives a speech, and everyone loves it. My wife, Melania, gives the exact same speech and people get on her case.”

Trump made a self-deprecating joke (“Modesty is my best quality”) and he also took a shot at the media, describing them as “Hillary’s team”.

But his remarks became less collegial later on, as he called Clinton "so corrupt" and insinuated that she hated Catholics. Some of these remarks attracted boos and jeers from the affluent crowd, causing Trump to remark, "I don’t know who they’re angry at, Hillary, you or I."

Trump also joked about his opponent acting illegally. He said, "Just before taking the dais, Hillary accidentally bumped into me. And she very civilly said, ‘Pardon me,’ and I very politely replied, ‘Let me talk to you about that after I get into office.’”

Trump became more mean-spirited when he told the crowd that his opponent was merely “pretending not to hate Catholics,” an allusion to hacked correspondences from Clinton aides. He wondered how someone like Mrs. Clinton — “so corrupt,” he said — could sell herself to the American people. “What’s her pitch?” he asked. “The economy is busted, the government’s corrupt, Washington is failing. Vote for me.” He also suggested that the reason Clinton was not laughing as much as others at his jokes was because “all the jokes were given to her in advance.”

As for Hillary Clinton, she began with some self-deprecation, saying “I took a break from my rigorous nap schedule to be here,” adding, “Usually I charge a lot for speeches like this.” She wondered how President Obama might be able to visit the White House for a reunion of former presidents under a Trump administration. “How is Barack going to get past the Muslim ban?” Noting that she was speaking second, she said: “It’s amazing I’m up here after Donald. I didn’t think he’d be O.K. with a peaceful transition of power.”

Clinton said that Trump had generously sent a car to drive her to the dinner. “Actually, it was a hearse,” she said.

She joked about Trump's objectifying women, referring to the Statue of Liberty and how for most Americans, it represents a shining beacon of hope and a welcome symbol for immigrants arriving on the nation’s shores. She said that Trump “looks at the Statue of Liberty and sees a 4. Maybe a 5 if she loses the torch and tablet and changes her hair.” She continued, “You know, come to think, know what would be a good number for a woman? 45.” (If you don't get the joke, the next president will be the 45th). She concluded her remarks on a more serious note, referencing the anti-Catholic prejudice that Al Smith had to endure.

The dinner was chaired by Smith's descendant Alfred E. Smith IV, the chairman of the dinner, who had a few witty lines of his own. He told the crowd, “Before the dinner started, Trump went to Hillary and asked, ‘How are you?’ She said, ‘I’m fine — now get out of the ladies’ dressing room.’”

Here is a video of some of the most memorable lines from the dinner, as selected by CNN.

The 1884 election was a vicious one in which each party launched attacks on the personal character of the other party's candidate. Maine Senator James G. Blaine had won his party's nomination after having failed to do so in the two previous elections. He came to the nomination with some baggage. Firstly, he had been the leader of one of two opposing factions within the Republican Party (known as the "half-breeds") with the other faction known as the "Stalwarts".

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Blaine had been prevented from getting the Republican presidential nomination during the previous two elections because of the something known as the "Mulligan letters". In 1876, a Boston bookkeeper named James Mulligan had located some letters showing that Blaine had sold his influence in Congress to various businesses. One such letter ended with the phrase "burn this letter". In the 1884 election, the Democratic Party resurrected the scandal of the Mulligan letters. A popular chant among Democrat supporters at their rallies was "Burn, burn, burn this letter!" Democrats alleged that Blaine had received $110,150 from the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad for securing a federal land grant. Democrat received support from anti-Blaine Republicans and both attacked the Republican candidate on the question of his integrity.

Democrats contrasted Blaine with their candidate, New York Governor Grover Cleveland, who was known as "Grover the Good". In just three years he had become successively the mayor of Buffalo, New York, and then the governor of the state of New York, and he was credited with cleaning up much of the corruption associated with Tammany Hall. Republicans needed a strategy to counter this disparity in the reputation of their candidates and in July they found a skeleton in Cleveland's closet. An opportunistic preacher from Buffalo named George H. Ball charged that Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child while he was a lawyer in that city. They confronted Cleveland with the scandal.

Cleveland is reported to have told his supporters, "Above all, tell the truth." Cleveland admitted to paying child support in 1874 to Maria Crofts Halpin, the woman who claimed he fathered her child. The child was named Oscar Folsom Cleveland. Halpin was reportedly involved with several men at the time, including Cleveland's friend and law partner, Oscar Folsom, for whom the child was named. Cleveland claimed that he did not know which man was the father and said that he assumed responsibility for supporting the child because he was the only bachelor among the group.

That October, shortly before election day, the Republicans published an affidavit from Halpin in which she stated that until she met Cleveland her "life was pure and spotless", and "there is not, and never was, a doubt as to the paternity of our child, and the attempt of Grover Cleveland, or his friends, to couple the name of Oscar Folsom, or any one else, with that boy, for that purpose is simply infamous and false." Cleveland's campaign stated that there was no proof that Cleveland was the father, and claimed that, by assuming responsibility and finding a home for the child, he was acting charitably. They also said that Halpin was not forced into an asylum; her whereabouts were unknown.

Blaine's supporters mocked Cleveland and at their rallies, they chanted "Ma, Ma, Where's my Pa?" (After Cleveland's victory, Cleveland supporters would add to the taunt: "Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha.")

As Election Day approached, it was a question as to which of the two negatives would affect voters more. The Cleveland campaign's damage control worked well enough to keep the race very close through Election Day. But Blaine still faced oppositions from within his own party. A group of Republican reformers called the "Mugwumps" were more angry at Blaine's corruption than at Cleveland's private affairs.

In the final week of the campaign, the Blaine campaign suffered a catastrophic October surprise. At a Republican meeting attended by Blaine, a group of New York preachers criticized the Mugwumps. Their spokesman, Reverend Dr. Samuel Burchard, made a remark that was later used against Blaine. He said: "We are Republicans, and don't propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been rum, Romanism, and rebellion."


This anti-Catholic slur was picked up by a Democratic operative who was present. Cleveland's campaign managers made sure that it was widely publicized in national newspapers. The statement angered Irish and Catholic voters, especially in New York City and it mobilized them to vote heavily against Blaine. This gaffe was said to cost Blaine New York state and the election by the narrowest of margins. New York state decided the election. Cleveland won the state's 36 electors by a margin of just 1,047 votes out of 1,171,312 cast. Cleveland ended up with 219 electoral votes, compared to 182 for Blaine. Cleveland won 20 states, Blaine won 18. In the popular vote it was 4,914,482 (48.9%) for Cleveland, to 4,856,905 (48.3%) for Blaine.

The story of the 1884 election is the subject of Mark Wahlgren Summers' book Rum Romanism and Rebellion: The Making of A President, 1884.
The third and final presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton took place last night (October 19th). It was held at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, and was moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News. The debate began with Wallace asking the candidates what their criteria would be for filling vacancies on the United States Supreme Court. Both expressed different visions, with Clinton expressing the hope that the court would overturn the Citizen's United decision, support Roe v. Wade and permit reasonable limitations on gun ownership. Trump reluctantly acknowledged that he wants Roe v. Wade overturned so that the issue of abortion can become a matter for each state to decide.

The most talked about moment of the debate was when Trump was asked by moderator Chris Wallace whether he would accept the election's results. Trump replied: "I will look at it at the time." He continued to use the word "rigged" in complaining about media bias, inaccurate voter rolls and the FBI's decision not to charge Clinton over her use of a private email server. Wallace pressed on about whether Trump would accept the election's outcome, Trump said "I will keep you in suspense." Clinton responded by saying "That's horrifying."

Trump was asked by Wallace about the multiple women who have come forward accusing him of sexual assault since the second presidential debate. Clinton pointed out that Trump's defense, used repeatedly at rallies, has been to suggest the women weren't attractive enough. She said, "Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don't think there is a woman anywhere who doesn't know what that feels like," she said. When Trump replied "nobody has more respect for women than I do," Wallace had to admonish the crowd, which had started laughing.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was referenced at the debate as Clinton deflected a question about hacked email into an accusation that Putin was behind the hacking and that what the Russian wanted was a Trump presidency. She referred to Trump as "Putin's puppet." When Trump said Russian President Vladimir Putin would rather deal with him than Clinton, she said: "Well that's because he'd rather have a puppet as president of the United States." Trump later said "But if the United States got along with Russia, that wouldn't be so bad."

Trump once again attacked Clinton for failing to achieve change during her 30 years in public service. He said that Clinton has "been in a position to help," but "the problem is, you talk, but you don't get anything done, Hillary. You don't." Clinton replied, "You know, back in the 1970s, I worked for the Children's Defense Fund, and I was taking on discrimination against African-American kids in schools. He was getting sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination in his apartment buildings. In the 1980s, I was working to reform the schools in Arkansas. He was borrowing $14 million from his father to start his businesses. In the 1990s, I went to Beijing and I said women's rights are human rights. He insulted a former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, called her an eating machine. And on the day when I was in the Situation Room, monitoring the raid that brought Osama bin Laden to justice, he was hosting the 'Celebrity Apprentice.'"

Trump began the debate calmly, but towards the end his frustration began to show as he interrupted Clinton at one point, leaning into the microphone and saying: "Such a nasty woman." Generally the dislike that the candidates have for one another was palpable, with the two refusing to shake hands at the end of the debate.

A CNN/ORC instant poll found 52% of debate watchers viewed Clinton as the winner compared to 39% who felt the same about Trump. But a deeper look at the poll results presents a picture of a much closer race. Half of voters (50%) who watched the debate said that Clinton agreed with them more on the important issues, while 47% thought Trump did. They thought Clinton had the better understanding of the issues by a wider margin (61% to 31%), and that she was better prepared to handle the presidency (59% to 35%). The poll also disclosed that most voters' minds weren't changed by the debate. 54% of those who watched said that the debate would have no effect on their vote, and those who did feel swayed were about evenly split between Trump (23%) and Clinton (22%).
Voters who watched were also divided on the question of who would better handle the economy (50% said Clinton, 48% Trump), immigration (50% Trump to 48% Clinton), and nominations to the Supreme Court (49% said Trump, 48% Clinton). Clinton held a narrow edge on handling the federal budget (50% to 46%) and was also seen as better able to handle foreign policy (55% to 41%).


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