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|Hail to the Chief?|
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Thomas Edmund Dewey (1902-1971) was the
33rd President of the United States 47th Governor of New York, a leader of the progressive wing of the Republican party, and one of the most popular men to fail to become President of the United States. Prior to his entry in state and national politics, Dewey was a highly successful prosecutor in New York City, fighting against the influence of the mafia during the Great Depression, with his greatest victory being the 1936 conviction of mafioso Lucky Luciano.
Dewey ran for Governor of New York in 1938 on his crime-fighting credentials, and nearly won. By 1940, he had achieved folk hero status across the nation, and despite his lack of political experience he began a serious bid for the Republican nomination. Although he placed first on the first ballot of the convention, his delegate support quickly dropped, and the nomination went instead to Wendell Wilkie, the only man with less experience than him.
In between elections, Dewey was successfully elected Governor of New York in 1942. He was known for running a tight ship and punishing any Republicans who opposed his agenda in any way, but also ran a highly effective progressive administration. The state debt was reduced, education spending was greatly increased, government employees saw pay raises, a state thruway was commissioned, and businesses flocked to the state. Unsurprisingly, he was handily elected to two more terms in 1946 and 1950.
In 1948, Dewey was renominated and went against the unpopular incumbent Harry S. Truman. He had the advantages of name recognition and a very split vote, but the disadvantage of a rather cold personality. Unfortunately, Dewey and his advisers assumed his victory would be a given, and he ran a rather weak and uninspiring campaign, compared to Truman's aggressive tours and speeches. Despite polls showing Dewey with a comfortable lead, on election day Truman pulled off an upset victory. This led to the infamous Dewey Defeats Truman incident with the Chicago Tribune the next day.
Dewey would be the last presidential candidate to have any facial hair, and the last New Yorker to be nominated by a major party until 2016.
By the 1950s the progressive faction was all but dead, and the new Rockefeller Republican faction of liberal Republicans arose in the northeast. Dewey straddled the two groups. In the aftermath of FDR's New Deal, the Republicans were drawn towards the center and needed a moderate to win, allowing Dewey, who would have been on the fringe a decade before 1940, to prevail over more conservative elements of the Party.
In 1952, Dewey decided against another campaign, but used his influence to convince the moderate Eisenhower to run and defeat the very conservative Robert Taft, which in the long run turned out to be a very smart move. He supported moderate Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton's presidential bid in 1964, hoping to block Barry Goldwater's nomination, with considerably less success.
After his term as Governor expired in 1954, Dewey returned to his very successful law practice, and died of a heart attack in 1971.