Past Times

Past Times: NC Democrats were relieved with 1948 results

Early arrivals at State Democratic Headquarters crowded around the radio at Hotel Carolina to hear returns that put President Truman and Tar Heel Democratic candidates in the lead to start and kept them there.
Early arrivals at State Democratic Headquarters crowded around the radio at Hotel Carolina to hear returns that put President Truman and Tar Heel Democratic candidates in the lead to start and kept them there. N&O Photo

Few Presidential elections could have been as exciting as the famous Truman-Dewey contest in 1948. The notorious “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline may have seemed a safe bet in the early hours following the election, but North Carolina, which was staunchly Democratic, went big for Truman, as well as electing W. Kerr Scott as the new governor. By Thursday morning, Truman was declared the winner, and writer Jim Chaney described the reaction in Raleigh.

A sleepy-eyed State shook its head happily yesterday at the most unbelievable political upset in memory.

Contrary to pollster, the pundit commentators and the big city press, President Harry S. Truman was President still.

Did Chairman Capus Waynick of the State Democratic Executive Committee believe it? Waynick, as party leader for North Carolina, had plugged for Truman without compromise.

“No, I didn’t expect it,” Waynick confessed. “Why should I lie about it?”

“I think,” he said with the incoherency of a man who had sat up all night, “there ought to be a big garbage can for pollsters.

“Truman won this thing himself. It was that little old fighter from Missouri who did it.”

On Capitol Square, Governor Cherry, with Waynick one of the State leaders to go boldly for Truman, released a typewritten and typically Cherry message:

“My congratulations go to President Truman whose election is a definite indication of the decisive action of our citizenship when they are aroused to the real issues.

“Most of the commentators and so far as I know all of the ‘pollsters’ should have a fallen feeling at their failure to contact or analyze the average citizen in arriving at decisions. (The words ‘a fallen feeling’ were neatly underlined.)

“North Carolina in its own quiet and conservative way has kept the faith of its traditions in the Democratic household. We can look forward with confidence to four more years of good government.

“It is hoped and believed that our citizenship in North Carolina regardless of party will cooperate in the further progress of our State.”

That statement, the Governor said, was “just an off-the-reel sort of statement.” He wrote it out at lunchtime between sessions of the Advisory Budget Commission and gave it to his secretaries to type up. But he felt like something ought to be said.

“Did you hear those reports last night,” he chuckled. “They were ridiculous. I couldn’t help thinking about how far they were all wrong.

“I feel the fact that North Carolina took an even-keel, middle-of-the-road attitude on this thing probably had an effect on our neighbors.”

Speaking of polls, the governor added, laughing, “I wish somebody would poll some of those newspapers which went for Dewey.”

One columnist to predict Truman victory unequivocally and repeatedly was North Carolina’s Lynn Nisbet, Raleigh correspondent of the North Carolina Afternoon Paper Association.

Gubernatorial Nominee Kerr Scott called the national vote a “very fine tribute to Mr. Truman.”

“Not that he didn’t deserve it,” he added.

“Everybody I ran into told me Mr. Truman couldn’t possibly win,” Scott recalled. “That’s what they seemed to be saying all over the country.

“It looks like the people got tired of being told they couldn’t elect him.”

The old Literary Digest must have rolled over in its grave. By Tuesday’s standards, the straw vote forecasting that sent it there was mild speculation.

Even as the last and telling returns were clattering across the teletypes, national magazines and Washington news letters were arriving in the mails with the news – the wrong news.…

It was all like Henry Bridges’ red necktie.

“I’ve been wearing this for a couple of weeks as a campaign tie,” the State auditor explained slowly to dazzled members of the Advisory Budget Commission. “I put it on today as a victory tie.

“I’m glad it’s my tie, and not my face that’s red today.”

The Truman victory?

“Oh my goodness,” Attorney General Harry McMullan confessed, “it was a surprise to me. I’m flabbergasted.

“It’s like the time when Duke had been beating North Carolina all the time. I went over to see a game with Charlie Wooten. I think it was about 1937. We beat Duke. Charlie Wooten said it was too much to enjoy in one day. I’ll have to put it away and take it out every once in a while during the next year.”…

Did it really surprise the experts?

“Not me,” Secretary of State Thad Eure boasted. “I predicted a 150 to 250 thousand majority in the State. I sure have been getting the razzberries during the past week on that.”

There wasn’t a luke-warm Democrat anywhere. The Dixiecrat sympathizers of Monday were waving the party banners, and the Dewey-supporters had vanished like snowflakes. The N&O Nov. 4, 1948

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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