Thomas E. Dewey

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Thomas Edmund Dewey (1902-1971) was the Republican nominee for president in 1944 and 1948. He was the first presidential nominee born in the 20th century.

Dewey was born in Michigan, and moved to New York to attend Columbia Law School, graduating in 1925. Dewey had becaome a prosecutor in New York by the 1930s, and helped put many prominent New York criminals away, including mobster Lucky Luciano, American Nazi boss Fritz Kuhn, and Stock Exchange embezzler Richard Whitney. Dewey was elected District Attorney of New York County in 1937.

Dewey made a run at the governorship on New York in 1938, but lost to Democrat Herbert Lehman. Perhaps overreaching slightly, in 1940 at age 38 he entered the Republican primaries for the presidential nomination, but was defeated by Wendell L. Willkie, in part because he was seen as too young (Franklin D. Roosevelt, upon hearing Dewey was in the race, reportedly said: "He's thrown his diaper into the ring.")

Dewey made another run for New York governor in 1942, and won this time. A fairly liberal Republican, Dewey increased teachers' pay, fought racial discrimination, and balanced the state budget. Dewey also created the State University of New York system.

Dewey ran again for president in 1944, winning the nomination this time when Willkie's failing health caused him to drop out, and when conservative Ohio Senator Robert Taft frightened moderates away with a speech that seemed to endorse a return to isolationism. To placate conservatives, Dewey chose Taft friend John Bricker as running mate. Dewey waged an extremely aggressive campaign against FDR, accusing him of abusing his authority as commander-in-chief, and his fitness to remain president. FDR lauched a savage counterattack, claiming that the GOP's platform endorsing some New Deal measures was a hoax, and reminding voters that the GOP had produced Hoover, after all. Dewey lost to FDR 45-54%, and lost the electoral vote 432-99. FDR afterward remarked that the 1944 campaign was the nastiest he'd ever participated in.

Dewey seemed determined not to be seen as unduly aggressive in his 1948 campaign. Running against Harry Truman, whom every poll had shown was falling behind, Dewey tried to play it safe; he avoided specifics, didn't even mention his opponent by name, and generally spoke in platitudes. Truman at first simply mocked Dewey, but later pulled off a brilliant political ploy; he put together a bill of many things the Republicans claimed to favor in their 1948 platform, and then passed it along to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. The House rejected it, and Truman even managed to divide his opposition when Robert Taft inadvertantly called his own platform an "omnibus left-wing program." Confident of victory when polls still shoed him leading Truman by 4-6 percent, Dewey almost stopped campaigning and began planning his inauguration. It must have come as a rude shock to him when he learned late on election night that he had been defeated yet again, losing the popular vote 45-49, and losing the elctoral vote 303-189.

Dewey opted not to run for president in 1952, endorsing instead Dwight Eisenhower. He had meanwhile been elected to second and third terms as governor of New York, and his last term expired in January 1955. Dewey retired from politics and returned to his law practice. He died of a heart attack in 1971.

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