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Wendell L. Wilkie

From dKosopedia


Wendell Lewis Willkie (1892-1944) was the Republican nominee for President in 1940. A political novice in the truest sense, Willkie never held any elective office before his nomination. Willkie and Benjamin Harrison remain the only Indiana natives nominated for President by a major party.

Willkie, a graduate of Indiana University, began his political career as a Democrat, supporting James M. Cox and Alfred E. Smith in their respective runs for President, and even backing Franklin D. Roosevelt in his 1932 run. But as Willkie rose through the ranks of the Commonwealth & Southern Corporation, an electric utility holding company, he came to increasingly disagree with the New Deal, mostly because it created the Tennessee Valley Authority, which competed with Willkie's company. Willkie became a Republican in 1939, though many Republicans insisted that he was just an "anti-Roosevelt Democrat."

As a recent party-switcher who had never held public office, Willkie seemed an unlikely candidate. It was widely assumed at the time that Thomas E. Dewey would receive the nomination. But Dewey's support came almost entirey from the party establishment, and many delegates refused to commit to anyone before the convention, opening the door to a dark horse. Willkie also had the support of most of the Republican press, much of which found the isolationism of Willkie's GOP opponents less and less convincing as World War II worsened overseas. There was also a sense that Dewey was too young, in both appearance and years, to be taken seriously against FDR, while Willkie would have the credibility of being a former Democrat.

Willkie's fatal mistake during the subsequent camapign was in crusading against Roosevelt's third term. Apparently Willkie was convinced that this was a winner with voters, but most seemed not to especially care the FDR had broken with tradition, citing the looming conflict and economic troubles as the nation emerged from the Great Depression. Willkie then tried coming out as a hardline anti-war canddiate, and this seemed to work, but it was also a rather nuanced position for Willkie, since he was also an internationalist. In the end, Roosevelt's popularity carried the day: Willkie lost the popular vote 54-44%, and was swamped in the Electoral College 449-82.

Interestingly, after losing the election, Willkie became one of FRD's greatest foreign policy allies in the GOP. Willkie ran again for president in 1944, but was opposed by conservatives in the party, who rallied behind Dewey. Willkie's failing health also raised questions as to whether, if elected, he would live out even one term. Willkie eventually quit the Republican party, joining the New York Liberal Party, which endorsed Roosevelt.

Fears of Willkie's fragile health turned out to be justified, as he succumbed to a heart attack in early October of 1944.

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This page was last modified 06:23, 28 November 2006 by dKosopedia user Harkov311. Content is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

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