After the votes were counted: “What do you know?” sighed Dewey. “The son of a bitch won.”

From a Wall Street Journal review by Edward Kosner of A.J. Baime’s book Dewey Defeats Truman:

The 1948 presidential campaign is like a great opera. The themes, characters and scenes are so compelling that they resonate again and again: the scrappy accidental president Harry S. Truman struggling to win election in his own right; the Republican challenger, Thomas E. Dewey, prim and complaisant; the rumpled Henry Wallace and his cryptocommunist enablers; and the race-baiting Strom Thurmond with his Confederate-flag-waving Dixiecrat insurgents.

Remarkably, many of the issues stoking this year’s febrile presidential campaign were already in play seven decades ago when radio and newspapers ruled the media and candidates courted voters from the rear platforms of railcars. There was even talk that the Russians were trying to interfere in the election.

The saga of the ’48 campaign has been told many times, notably in David McCullough’s brilliant “Truman” (1992) and in Philip White’s “Whistle Stop” (2014). Now A.J. Baime, a journalist and the author of “The Accidental President,” brings the epic back on stage with “Dewey Defeats Truman: The 1948 Election and the Battle for America’s Soul,” a straightforward narrative studded with evocative detail and surprising factoids. . . .

Truman’s and Dewey’s contrasting politics and personalities were on vivid display in their campaign trains as they barnstormed the country: “On Truman’s train,” writes Mr. Baime, “it was whiskey and poker. On Dewey’s, martinis and bridge. . . .

Indeed, Dewey’s starchiness—Clare Boothe Luce memorably snarked that he looked like “the bridegroom on a wedding cake”—played a big role in his undoing. A relentless mob-busting district attorney and governor in New York, he’d waged a slashing campaign as the GOP nominee against Franklin Roosevelt in 1944. But running against FDR’s successor, Dewey demurred. He started his campaign late and lulled his crowds with brief, anodyne speeches about “unity.”

His hubris seemed well-founded. Truman had served nearly all of FDR’s fourth term and had, among other successes, enacted the Marshall Plan to rebuild war-ravaged Europe. But he hadn’t won over the country or even his own party. Until the last moment, Democratic powers tried to draft Dwight Eisenhower, the war hero now president of Columbia University, to head their ticket. As the campaign kicked off, Truman’s approval rating had fallen to 36%, and the Roper Poll had him trailing Dewey by almost 15 points. . . .

Truman was serene while the pollsters, political scribes, bookies, party satraps and most of his campaign staff were certain he would be crushed on election day. He had an unshakable conviction that the issues he had been pushing and would push—affordable health insurance for all, raising the minimum wage, aid to education, civil rights (including desegregating the armed forces), resistance to Stalinist Russia and storage for farmers’ surplus crops—would trump Dewey’s pallid liberal Republican nostrums. . . .

And, Mr. Baime writes, he had a brilliant ploy: Truman called the GOP-dominated House and Senate back for a special summer session, bombarded them with liberal legislation they refused to pass, then campaigned against the “do nothing” 80th Congress at every whistle stop and big-city rally. “Give ’em hell, Harry!” the voters shouted. . . .

The crowds built—20,000 or 30,000 in small Midwestern cities, sometimes at dawn in the rain; 100,000 and more in big-city stadiums and plazas. Challenging the president in the midst of the campaign, the Russians sealed off the American sector of Berlin inside the Soviet-controlled part of Germany, triggering real fear that World War III might erupt. Truman responded with a coup: the Berlin airlift that kept the city from starving.

In October, with the polls still running against him and nine out of 10 American newspapers, including the New York Times, endorsing Dewey, the president sat in the Magellan, Mr. Baime writes, and asked an aide to take notes. He then reeled off the 48 states, their electoral votes, and his predictions. “How many do I have?” he asked. The answer was 340—more than enough to carry the Electoral College.

Meanwhile, the Wallace and Thurmond campaigns were shriveling, as splinter-party efforts so often do. Truman hammered Dewey until the last minute. “The Republicans stand for special interests and they always have,” he’d repeat. . . .

Certain of a Dewey landslide, Roper quit polling in September. On election eve, other polls had Dewey ahead by five or six points. The Times predicted he would get 345 electoral votes, Newsweek 366. Truman had a glass of milk and went to bed early on election night. Awakened at 4:30 a.m., he was told he would likely win—and went back to sleep. . . .

Before the tide turned in the count, the anti-Truman Chicago Daily Tribune printed 150,000 copies of its first edition with the infamous headline “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.” A beaming president brandished it later in one of the most famous political photographs in American history. “What do you know?” sighed the crestfallen Dewey. “The son of a bitch won.”

Ed Kosner is the former editor of Newsweek, New York magazine, Esquire and the New York Daily News.

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