Graying veterans of Harry S. Truman’s 1948 presidential campaign celebrated anew the triumph the experts said was impossible, but offered scant hope to Democrats looking for a repeat in 1988. They were wild about Harry all over again at Wednesday night’s reunion at the National Press Club, where they gathered to watch a preview of a public television documentary on “The Great Upset of ’48.”
Thomas E. Dewey, the governor of New York, was so confident of victory that he “had been negotiating the purchase of a suit to be inaugurated in,” recalled author Robert J. Donovan, former associate editor and Washington bureau chief of The Times. Donovan covered the race for the New York Herald Tribune.
“The polls were completely wrong,” said Eric Sevareid, then a CBS Radio reporter, who recalls the big crowds that turned out as Truman’s train, the Ferdinand Magellan, covered 31,000 miles across America. “We began to think, ‘Something is going on here,’ but none of us had enough guts to go bet even at 9-1,” Sevareid said.
Dewey Victory Predicted
On election night, Nov. 2, 1948, legendary NBC Radio announcer H. V. Kaltenborn assured Americans that despite an early lead for Truman, Dewey would prevail “when the outlying districts are reported.”
When editors at the Chicago Tribune heard that broadcast, they ordered the presses to roll with the headline “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN"--and created a collector’s item that Truman held up in jubilation the next day after his 2 million-vote victory.
Is there a lesson in all this for the 1988 race, when most polls now point to a big lead for George Bush over Michael S. Dukakis?
Donovan observed: “The trouble from Dukakis’ point of view is that Bush knows the Dewey story too. A lot of people have learned a big lesson from Tom Dewey. George Bush is one of them.”