The Election of 1952
The 1952 United States presidential election was the 42nd quadrennial presidential election. It was held on Tuesday, November 4, 1952. Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower won a landslide victory over Democrat Joseph Kennedy Jr., ending a string of Democratic Party wins that stretched back to 1932.
Incumbent Democratic President Harry S. Truman had remained silent about whether he would seek another full term, but the unpopular incumbent announced his withdrawal from the race following his defeat in the New Hampshire primary by Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver. After Truman's withdrawal, the president and other party leaders threw their support behind Kennedy, the moderate Senator of Massachusetts. Kennedy emerged victorious on the third presidential ballot of the 1952 Democratic National Convention, defeating everyone else, including Senator Richard Russell Jr. of Georgia, and other candidates. The Republican nomination was primarily contested by conservative Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio and Eisenhower, a general who was widely popular for his leadership in World War II. With the support of Thomas E. Dewey and other party leaders, Eisenhower narrowly prevailed over Taft at the 1952 Republican National Convention. The Republicans chose Richard Nixon, a young senator from California, as Eisenhower's running mate.
Republicans attacked Truman's handling of the Korean War and the broader Cold War, and alleged that Soviet spies had infiltrated the U.S. government. Democrats faulted Eisenhower for failing to condemn Republican Senator Joe McCarthy and other reactionary Republicans who they alleged had engaged in reckless and unwarranted attacks. Kennedy tried to separate himself from the unpopular Truman administration, instead campaigning on the popularity of the New Deal and lingering fears of another Great Depression under a Republican administration.
Eisenhower retained his enormous popularity from the war, as seen in his campaign slogan, "I Like Ike." Eisenhower's popularity and Truman's unpopularity led to a Republican victory, and Eisenhower won 55% of the popular vote. He carried every state outside of the South and won several Southern states that had almost always voted for Democrats since the end of Reconstruction. Republicans also won control of both houses of Congress. DEMOCRATIC NOMINATION The expected candidate for the Democratic nomination was incumbent President Harry S. Truman. Since the newly passed 22nd Amendment did not apply to whoever was president at the time of its passage, he was eligible to run again. But Truman entered 1952 with his popularity plummeting, according to polls. The bloody and indecisive Korean War was dragging into its third year, Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist crusade was stirring public fears of an encroaching "Red Menace," and the disclosure of widespread corruption among federal employees (including some high-level members of Truman's administration) left Truman at a low political ebb. Polls showed that he had a 66% disapproval rating, a record only matched decades later by Richard Nixon and surpassed by George W. Bush.
Kefauver won all but three primaries, but failed to win nomination
Truman's main opponent was populist Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver, who had chaired a nationally televised investigation of organized crime in 1951 and was known as a crusader against crime and corruption. The Gallup poll of February 15 showed Truman's weakness: nationally Truman was the choice of only 36% of Democrats, compared with 21% for Kefauver. Among independent voters, however, Truman had only 18% while Kefauver led with 36%. In the New Hampshire primary, Kefauver upset Truman, winning 19,800 votes to Truman's 15,927 and capturing all eight delegates. Kefauver graciously said that he did not consider his victory "a repudiation of Administration policies, but a desire...for new ideas and personalities." Stung by this setback, Truman soon announced that he would not seek re-election (however, Truman insisted in his memoirs that he had decided not to run for reelection well before his defeat by Kefauver).
With Truman's withdrawal, Kefauver became the front-runner for the nomination, and he won most of the primaries. Other primary winners were Senator Hubert Humphrey, who won his home state of Minnesota, while Senator Richard Russell Jr. from Georgia won the Florida primary and U.S. diplomat W. Averell Harriman won West Virginia. However, most states still chose their delegates to the Democratic Convention via state conventions, which meant that the party bosses – especially the mayors and governors of large Northern and Midwestern states and cities – were able to choose the Democratic nominee. These bosses (including Truman) strongly disliked Kefauver; his investigations of organized crime had revealed connections between Mafia figures and many of the big-city Democratic political organizations. The party bosses thus viewed Kefauver as a maverick who could not be trusted, and they refused to support him for the nomination.
Instead, with Truman taking the initiative, they began to search for other, more acceptable, candidates. However, most of the other candidates had a major weakness. Richard Russell had much Southern support, but his support of racial segregation and opposition to civil rights for Southern blacks led many liberal Northern and Midwestern delegates to reject him. Truman favored W. Averell Harriman of New York, but he had never held an elective office and was inexperienced in politics. Truman next turned to his vice-president, Alben W. Barkley, but at 74 he was rejected as being too old by labor union leaders. Other minor or favorite son candidates included Oklahoma Senator Robert S. Kerr, Governor Paul A. Dever of Massachusetts, Senator Hubert Humphrey from Minnesota, and Senator J. William Fulbright from Arkansas.
One candidate soon emerged who seemingly had few political weaknesses: Senator Joseph Kennedy Jr. of Massachusetts. The grandson of former Senator P.J. Kennedy, he came from a distinguished family in Massachusetts and was well known as a gifted orator, intellectual, and political moderate. In the spring of 1952, Truman convinced Kennedy to take the presidential nomination, and as the convention approached, many party bosses, as well as normally apolitical citizens, hoped that he would get the nomination. CONVENTION: The 1952 Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago in the same coliseum the Republicans had gathered in several weeks earlier. Adlai Stevenson proceeded to give a witty and stirring address that led his supporters to begin a renewed round of efforts to nominate him, despite his protests. Kefauver led on the first ballot, but had far fewer votes than necessary to win. Kennedy gradually gained strength until he was nominated on the third ballot.
After the delegates nominated Kennedy, the convention then turned to selecting a vice-presidential nominee. After narrowing it down to Senators John Sparkman, and A. S. Mike Monroney, President Truman and a small group of political insiders chose Sparkman, a conservative and segregationist from Alabama, for the nomination. The convention largely complied and nominated Sparkman as Kennedy's running mate. He was chosen because of his Southern identity and conservative record; party leaders hoped this factor would create a balanced ticket.
Sparkman remained in the Senate until his retirement in 1978. GENERAL ELECTION: