Election 1944: That 1916 horse race (10-13-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (October 13, 1944)


Background of news –
That 1916 horse race

By Bertram Benedict

Although the betting odds in most parts of the country are substantially in favor of President Roosevelt, many keen political observers call the election, at least in its present stage, a “horse race.” Governor Dewey’s supporters are hoping that their man will stage a stretch run to come from behind, as did President Wilson in 1916 – the last previous presidential election that was close.

At the beginning of the 1916 campaign the betting odds in most parts of the country were 2–1 on Charles Evans Hughes, the Republican nominee. Mr. Wilson had been easily elected four years before only because the third-party candidacy of ex-President Roosevelt had split the Republican vote.

In 1912, Mr. Wilson had carried 40 states, but outside the Deep South and the border states the Wilson vote was larger than the combined Roosevelt-Taft vote in only one state.

Reconciliation fails

By June 1916, it looked as though the Republican regulars and the insurgents of 1912 were going to get together. The Progressive Party which had nominated Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 called its 1916 national convention for the same place (Chicago) and the same time as the Republicans.

Each convention appointed a committee to confer on reconciliation. But, to quote Prof. William Starr Myers, historian of the Republican Party, the GOP displayed a “Bourbon attitude” and “acted in the most highhanded and unrepentant manner.”

The result was that the Progressives named a separate ticket – Roosevelt and John M. Parker. Mr. Roosevelt declined, and supported Mr. Hughes in the campaign, but Mr. Parker ran for Vice President. Some Progressive leaders went over to Mr. Wilson, and in some state Progressive candidates ran for Congress.

As Governor of New York, Mr. Hughes had been labeled a Progressive. But the inability of the Republicans to bring the Progressive Party as such back into the fold made many voters consider Mr. Hughes a conservative.

In August, Mr. Wilson forced through Congress the Adamson Act, making eight hours the normal workday on the railroads. That swung much of the labor vote to him. And by coming out some months previously for stronger national defense, Mr. Wilson had partially nullified Republican charges that the country was in a state of unpreparedness for war.

Domestic issues stressed

The Republican platform, and the earlier speeches of Mr. Hughes, bitterly condemned Mr. Wilson’s policy toward Mexico and Germany. But toward the end of the campaign, the Democrats were demanding if this meant that a Republican administration would take the country into war, and in the last month of the campaign Mr. Hughes was talking almost entirely about domestic issues. By Election Day, the betting odds were even.

On Election Night, it looked as though Mr. Hughes had won, but California was yet to be heard from. California gave its 13 electoral votes to Mr. Wilson, by a margin of 3,806 votes in 928,594, and he was reelected by 23 electoral votes.

In California, Mr. Hughes found Republicans split for and against Hiram Johnson, Progressive candidate for Vice President in 1912. Mr. Hughes decided to be neutral in this factional quarrel.

On one occasion he and Mr. Johnson were in the same hotel, but no meeting was arranged between the two. Mr. Hughes was not told that Mr. Johnson was there, but Mr. Johnson’s admirers did not know that and thought their idol had been snubbed. California, voting for Mr. Wilson by less than 4,000, elected Mr. Johnson to the Senate on a Republican-Progressive ticket by almost 300,000.