Election 1940: Fence Voters Wooed on Issue of Third Term (10-26-40)

The Pittsburgh Press (October 26, 1940)


Willkie Keeps Subject Hot In Hopes of Winning Independents

By Thomas L. Stokes, Scripps-Howard Staff Writer

With Willkie Presidential Campaign, Oct. 26 –

Wendell L. Willkie is beginning to ask President Roosevelt this question persistently, now that Mr. Roosevelt has tossed off his wrap and stands forth as a candidate for political office. And this query is expected to run with regularity through the final days of the campaign.

All day yesterday, in his speeches in Western New York, the Republican candidate challenged the President to discuss the issue and tell why he should have a third term, especially in these troublous times when democracy has disappeared in so many countries and is on test in the United States.

His effort is to smoke out the President on this issue, with the knowledge that whatever course Mr. Roosevelt takes will bring a lowering of the Roosevelt guard.

Silence Dodges Discussion

If the President chooses to remain silent, then he evades discussion of a tradition of American democracy that is held dear by a great many citizens who are entitled to hear the reasons why it should be abandoned at this time.

In, on the other hand, he chooses to discuss it, he thereby recognizes the extreme importance of the tradition he is undertaking to break and helps, by his defense, to accentuate the doubts which Mr. Willkie has sought to raise in this campaign about perpetuation and concentration of power.

The Willkie strategy in hammering away at the President on the third-term issue is to win in the final days of the campaign as much as possible of the independent vote, an intelligent vote which can get exercised – as the battle over the Supreme Court “packing” bill disclosed – about fundamental questions concerning the forms of our government.

Independents More Numerous

The “undecided” vote seems this year to be much larger than usual. It is indicated that much of the indecision relates to the third term and to the fear that the Roosevelt administration may lead the country into war.

The independents, it is generally agreed, will cast the decisive vote in what looks now to be a very close election.

The third-term issue has not seemed thus far, from what soundings the writer has taken and from reaction reported by politicians, to be the fundamental issue that many had predicted before the campaign began. That is, it does not seem to loom large enough among the rank-and-file voters who form the President’s basic support.

President’s Aides Do Talking

But it may prove effective among a class of voters, not of the strictly anti-Roosevelt type, who in these closing days of the campaign are beginning to ponder very earnestly and thoughtfully how they shall cast their ballots.

Though Secretary Ickes and some of the New Deal satellites have talked of the third term and sought to dismiss the traditions as of little consequence, the President himself has not yet discussed it or even admitted its existence.

That is, with the possible exception of his message to the Chicago Convention, in which, without recognizing in so many words that he was breaking a tradition, he cited the call to service as one that he could not deny.

Real Test Coming

Very cleverly the ardent New Dealers, the inside clique, has started their talk of a third term months in advance of the convention – even, it is believed, before Mr. Roosevelt had any intention on running – with the object, it appeared, of bringing the issue into the open, having it discussed, so that the people would become accustomed to it and the fright would wear off.

This seems to have been good psychology, for the issue did not cut as deeply as some thought it would, and as the convention drew near a critical international situation developed which was advanced as the excuse for continuing Mr. Roosevelt in office.

But the real test is yet to come. And on Election Day the result may be different.