Carnett: Spelling counts in presidential elections

It was the first presidential election I remember: 1952, Eisenhower vs. Stevenson.

I was 7 and a student in Mrs. Collins' third-grade class at Corona del Mar Elementary School — a leafy, secreted campus that has long since been bulldozed.

Republican presidential candidate, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, a West Point graduate, was a World War II hero. As supreme commander of the Allied forces he successfully planned and supervised the 1944-45 liberation of Europe.

Gov. Adlai Stevenson of Illinois was a well-known intellectual and acclaimed orator.

"I Like Ike" was the general's campaign slogan. It was catchy and rolled trippingly off the tongue. "All the Way with Adlai" was less melodic.

Eisenhower became the 34th president of the United States by capturing 55.2% of the popular vote, winning 39 of 48 states and overwhelming Stevenson in the electoral count, 442-89.

He served two terms.

Mrs. Collins kept us third-graders informed during the 1952 election season. We weren't exposed to a 24-hour news cycle in those days, but we talked about the election in class, and I discussed the campaign with my parents at home. They held strong opinions.

Mom and Dad were Roosevelt Democrats. To mom, Franklin Roosevelt was "the father of our country" — up there in the pantheon with Washington and Lincoln. Mom sobbed when Roosevelt died in 1945, shortly after my birth.

Several days prior to the 1952 balloting, Mrs. Collins held a mock election in our classroom.

We were instructed to rip a strip of notebook paper from our binders, write the name of the person for whom we were voting, fold the strip and pass it to the front of our row.

Being the dutiful son of Democratic parents, I prepared to write Stevenson's name. Unfortunately, Mrs. Collins had neglected to put the candidates' names on the chalkboard.

I was in a quandary. A notoriously poor speller, I wanted to write "Stevenson" but had no idea how to spell it. I was too embarrassed to ask my teacher or anyone sitting near me.

What to do? I fidgeted in my seat. Mrs. Collins called for the ballots, and I panicked.

Feeling heavy pressure from my peers, I finally wrote "Ike" in bold letters on my ballot. That I could spell! It was the general's popular nickname.

Mrs. Collins tallied the ballots on the chalkboard. Twenty-three for Eisenhower; five for Stevenson.

I knew in my heart that I'd failed the Democratic process. The final count should have been 22-6. Though my ballot wouldn't have changed the outcome, I felt guilty. I'd carelessly tossed away my right to express my opinion.

Because of my lack of personal preparation, I'd contributed to Eisenhower's overwhelming victory in my classroom. It was a lesson I haven't forgotten.

I confessed to my parents that evening that I'd voted for Ike. They were bemused.

Still, Gen. Eisenhower turned out to be a good president.

I recently finished Evan Thomas' fine new biography: "Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World." An accomplished poker player in the military, Ike was highly skilled at bluffing. In my old age I've become a bit of a history buff, and Thomas' work is the fifth or sixth Eisenhower biography I've read. He's truly one of America's underappreciated heroes.

Fourteen years after Mrs. Collins' classroom election — upholding family tradition — I signed up to vote as a Democrat. I registered in 1966 while serving abroad with the U.S. military.

I cast my first presidential ballot for Democrat Hubert Humphrey in 1968. Humphrey lost the popular vote to Richard M. Nixon by less than a percentage point. Later, after marrying and having children, I changed my party affiliation. I've since voted for Democrats and Republicans.

I never fail to vote during an election cycle, and I make certain I perform my due diligence in advance of stepping into a voting booth.

Meaning, I make certain I know how to spell my candidate's name!

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Tuesdays.

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