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Image The Postwar Revival of Regional Politics, 1945-60

The Second World War kept the New Deal coalition together. But in the first presidential election after the peace, northern liberals and southern conservatives parted ways. There were many divisive issues—primarily the problem of race, on which the two wings of the Democratic party deeply disagreed. The result was the revolt of the Dixiecrats, a bloc of southern conservatives who seceded from the Democratic party in 1948 because of their opposition to civil rights for blacks. In the presidential election of that year, four southern states gave their presidential votes to a regional politician, Strom Thurmond and his States’ Rights Democratic party.

In this election, Republican nominee Thomas E. Dewey also proved to be a regional candidate. Dewey was a New Yorker of old Yankee and Puritan stock—narrow-featured, neatly dressed, bland, remote, restrained and rational. He carried every northeastern state except Massachusetts, and ran powerfully in the northern plains and the Pacific northwest.

The Democratic incumbent Harry Truman made a dramatic contrast with both his Dixiecrat and Republican rivals. Truman was a cultural product of the Missouri backcountry. His campaign was high-spirited, coarse-grained, aggressive, informal, emotional, personal and profane. Its spirit was captured in a rallying cry, “Give ‘em Hell, Harry!” Its substance appeared in its slogan, “Vote your own interests!” Truman managed to be liberal on race and conservative on property, pro-union and pro-farm, pro-producer and pro-consumer. His combination of strong words and moderate acts had powerful appeal in the American midlands.

When the ballots were counted, Truman, no less than his challengers, also proved to be a regional candidate, who drew his electoral majority mainly from the southern highlands, the middle west, border states, the great basin and the far west. He lost greater New England and the northern tier to Dewey and much of the south to Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond.

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