Election 1940: Willkie Again Dares 'Champ' to Debate Him (10-21-40)

The Pittsburgh Press (October 21, 1940)


Roosevelt Spurns Offer to Share Platform in Baltimore

By Charles T. Lucey, Scripps-Howard Staff Writer

Aboard Willkie Train in Wisconsin, Oct. 21 –

The chip that is always on Wendell Willkie’s shoulder, as much a part of him as epaulets to a field marshal, offered a new challenge today to the man he called “the Champ.”

Would President Roosevelt knock the chip off – would he accept the Republican candidate’s new proposal to debate with him on the same platform in Baltimore the night of October 30? The Willkie entourage waited expectantly today for an answer from Mr. Roosevelt.

The new den, issued last night in Minneapolis, came at the end of what had been set as a day of rest for the G.O.P. nominee, and it proved again that for this hammering, determined man there is no rest.

White House Secretary Stephen T. Early in Washington today indicated that President Roosevelt will ignore Wendell L. Willkie’s offer to share a campaign speaking platform in Baltimore.

Only Hall Taken

Mr. Willkie’s staff began by announcing he had been informed that the committee arranging for his October 30 appearance at Baltimore had obtained the only hall adequate for a meeting “to accommodate those who would like to hear either of the candidates for President.” As a result, the staff announcement continued, Mr. Roosevelt “was compelled to cancel his proposed Baltimore speaking engagement for that date.”

KDKA will carry Wendell Willkie’s speech tonight in Milwaukee at 10 p.m.

And then, this bland announcement:

Mr. Willkie, in an effort to avoid any possible inconvenience to the President or disappointment to the people of Baltimore, has wired those in charge of arranging for the President’s appearance and offer to share the platform with Mr. Roosevelt. Mr. Willkie informed the committee he would be delighted to have the President on the same platform with him in Baltimore.

Sarcasm and Drollery

The satire of that phrase – “in an effort to avoid any possible inconvenience to the President” – was characteristic of the campaign the G.O.P. nominee has been waging in recent days since polls and reports have shown him closing the gap that existed between him and the President only two weeks ago.

Sarcasm and satire and drollery have marked his attacks on Mr. Roosevelt. He apparently has been trying to find the President’s tender spots in a calculated effort to anger him.

Scornfully he has turned his fire on the “make-believe military inspection trips” of Mr. Roosevelt.

Elliott a Target

Time and again, he has concentrated on “smoking out” the man he has referred to not as the President but as the “third-term candidate” and “the indispensable man.”

He has driven home pointed shafts at the Air Corps captaincy which fell to Elliott Roosevelt. He and other speakers have not failed to point out that Mr. Willkie’s own captaincy came to him only after he had earned it with the A.E.F.

All these things were directed not at the Democratic Party, but right at the man who had said, in his acceptance speech, that he would be too busy for political speeches.

Personal Bard Effective

When Mr. Willkie believed he had forced Mr. Roosevelt to show his hand – after the President had announced his five speeches for the final days before election – the G.O.P. nominee exulted openly.

He frequently gets more response on some of these personal barbs than on a discussion of broad issues. There may be more of them.

Whether Mr. Roosevelt accepts the challenge or not, the final fortnight of the Willkie campaign will be even more intensive than up to this time.

Tomorrow, the Republican nominee will be bidding for the 44 electoral votes of Illinois and Indiana. Wednesday night he will be in New York for a single speech.

Whirlwind Schedule

The next morning will find him in Northern Pennsylvania, playing his cards for that state’s 36 votes. Then he goes into see-sawing Ohio, and back again across New York State to New York City. He will be there just 12 hours before returning to Illinois – and thus he will carry on until the eve of election.

Mr. Willkie left Minnesota, where he spoke to thousands in St. Paul and Minneapolis in Saturday meetings, with most encouraging reports from Gov. Harold E. Stassen.

Mr. Roosevelt carried the state in 1932 and 1936, but with a strong ticket which included Gov. Stassen and Senator Shipstead, Mr. Willkie is given a good chance for victory by state G.O.P. leaders.