Election 1944: Midwest conservatism (9-21-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (September 21, 1944)


Background of news –
Midwest conservatism

By Bertram Benedict

Governor Dewey in the Far West is admittedly fighting an uphill battle.

In 1940, Colorado was the only one of the 11 Rocky Mountain and Pacific Coast states to vote for Wendell Willkie. Arizona, Nevada and Utah each gave 60 percent or more of their vote to President Roosevelt, Montana 59 percent, Washington 58 percent, California and New Mexico 57 percent, Idaho and Oregon 54 percent, Wyoming 53 percent.

On the other hand, political observers agree that the Midwest west of the Mississippi seems safely in the bag for the 1944 Republican presidential nominee, with the exception of Missouri, usually classified as a border state. In 1940, Mr. Willkie carried the states in this area except Minnesota. Mr. Willkie got 57 percent of the vote in Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, 55 percent in North Dakota, 52 percent in Iowa.

La Follette strength in this section

This reaction of the Midwest west of the Mississippi against the so-called “liberalism” of the New Deal is in sharp contrast with what used to be the comparative radicalism of that section. There the elder La Follette, branded as a radical in the East, ran well in his third-party campaign in 1924. Minnesota and North Dakota gave him almost as many votes as they gave Calvin Coolidge. South Dakota gave him almost three times as many votes as to John W. Davis, the Democratic nominee. Iowa and Kansas gave Mr. La Follette almost twice the vote for Mr. Davis and Nebraska almost the vote it gave Mr. Davis.

And this period of Bob La Follette in the western part of the Midwest was achieved although he was the candidate of organized labor, sponsored by the AFL, the railroad brotherhoods and the Socialist Party. Today this section seems particularly resentful at trade unions and at the concessions given them under the New Deal.

In 1916, Woodrow Wilson was considered the “liberal” candidate, Charles Evans Hughes the conservative. Justice Hughes carried only four states west of the Mississippi (Iowa, Minnesota, Oregon, South Dakota). Mr. Wilson was popular among the unions and had put through the Adamson eight-hour law at the behest of the railroad brotherhoods (also, Mr. Wilson’s supporters were stressing the “He Kept Us Out of War” issue, and the Midwest was strongly anti-war).

Insurgent revolt began there

Theodore Roosevelt, branded as a Socialist in some of the more conservative quarters of the East, was especially popular in the western part of the Midwest. In 1912, Minnesota and South Dakota gave him their electoral votes when he ran on a third-party ticket and a reform platform. And Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and North Dakota gave him more votes than they gave William Howard Taft, the Republican nominee. From this section came many of the insurgent Republicans who had led the revolt against the conservative Taft administration.

In 1896, William Jennings Bryan, running for the Democrats on a Free Silver program and endorsed by the Populists, carried Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota. In that section of the country, the Populists and Greenbackers had won in the preceding years many victories in Congressional, state and local elections.

Evidently the farmers of the western Midwest were liberally or radically inclined when in trouble on mortgage indebtedness, inclined to go conservative when they did not feel overburdened with indebtedness. If Mr. Roosevelt carries most of the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Coast states in November, it will seem that the earlier liberalism or radicalism of the Midwest has moved farther West.