• U.S.

CAMPAIGN: Life with Wendell

5 minute read

Mr. & Mrs. Wendell Willkie went home lastweek, to their apartment at 1010 Fifth Ave., Manhattan. But neither they nor their home was any longer private. Politicians, newshawks, newshens, photographers, friends came & went. Little Mrs. Willkie, far from being overcome, quickly adjusted herself to the business of a Presidential nominee’s wife, announced that she was going along on campaign trips to see that Wendell got enough food and sleep.

Nominee Willkie, after a dash home, headed downtown for Commonwealth & Southern Corp.’s offices at 20 Pine St., just around the corner from Wall Street. If Democrats expected him to play down his utility connections at that late date, they guessed wrong. Candidate Willkie continued to act as one who had nothing to be ashamed of, even as if his business were a campaign asset. For his first week of politicking he made his old office his headquarters. He put off the effective date of his resignation from his $75,000 C. & S. presidency until this week (July 10). He also announced he would give up directorships in eightC. & S. subsidiaries—not as if he were ridding himself of some criminal connection; but simply as a businesslike decision. And for his first Manhattan press conference after his nomination, he had the Willkiesque effrontery to receive reporters in the C. & S. directors’ room.

“Here’s something interesting and kind of dramatic,” he began. “When I first came to New York in 1929 my law office was down the hall and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s office was just across the street.” He waved toward nearby Nassau Street, where Roosevelt & O’Connor had offices. “Mr. Roosevelt was Governor of New York then, but his law business was right there—right across the street. I thought you might be interested.” Later on, Mr. Willkie completed his point: “If I am a Wall Street lawyer, Franklin Roosevelt’s law office was just across the street.”*

Informed that the White House was being renovated, Wendell Willkie cracked: “I think that is a very courteous thing to do for your successor.” When he was asked whom he expected the Democrats to put up against him: “I hope President Roosevelt is renominated . . . I’d like to beathim … I want to meet the champ.”

Three times in one day, Nominee Willkie telephoned defeated Tom Dewey. He chinned with Minnesota’s Stassen, who had managed his convention floor forces in Philadelphia. He entertained Massachusetts’ Congressman Joe Martin overnight. He saw and handshook a parade of state GOPoliticos—some of whom had fought him up to the last ballot at Philadelphia. For hours he was closeted with a steering committee of twelve G. O. P. National Committeemen.

With these Wendell Willkie got down to cases. Question that he and they had to settle was: Who was going to run his campaign? On the National Committee was many a politico whose mouth was still puckered by the Willkie dose. In many a State, discomfited GOPros fought among themselves for front seats on the Willkie bandwagon. Driver Willkie welcomed one & all, but he was determined not to let go the reins. His first campaign dictum was enough to give them fits: that no contribution above $5,000 (the limit proposed in the pending Hatch Bill) would be accepted.

All week, to Wendell Willkie’s plain office in Pine Street, promising news came: of good omens in the South, where (in Arkansas, Texas, Maryland, Georgia), anti-Roosevelt Democrats raced to form their “first” Democratic Willkie-for-President Clubs; of other Democrats fumbling for some way to haul domestic fascism and Wendell Willkie’s German grandfather into the campaign; of Republicans doing unpredictable things to themselves by falling out (in Pennsylvania, New York,California) over who was to blame for catching sight of WendellWillkie last.

Busy Mr. Willkie twice took time out to go to shows. At Broadway’s Life With Father, admirers besieged him so long that the second act was delayed. Biggest laugh of the evening: when Actor Howard Lindsay (“Father”) roared: “God! Why does God make so many fools and Democrats?” Candidate Willkie also visited the vast Radio City Music Hall (to see & hear himself in a movie version of Information Please), got a thundering ovation when photographers’ flashbulbs gave away his presence.

This week in Washington, for the first time Mr. Willkie met his running mate, Charles Linza McNary, and conferred with him privately. Biggest Willkie coup was to persuade Joe Martin to become National Chairman of the G. O. P. Seven times Joe Martin had reportedly declined the job, before he succumbed to the pressure. [To ex-Chairman John Hamilton went the title of executive assistant.] Also on the Willkie-McNary board of strategy went Governor Harold Stassen of Minnesota, Connecticut State Boss Sam Pryor, Massachusetts’ new Committeeman Sinclair Weeks. Aides-de-camp: original Willkieites Russell Davenport and Oren Root Jr. First steps taken, Candidate Willkie dusted his hands and got ready to leave for a breather in Colorado. It would not be an oldfashioned, back-of-a-train, speech-making junket. The G. O. P.’s streamlined candidate planned to go as the crow flies, by airplane.

*As Mr. Willkie later remembered, Governor Roosevelt’s office in 1929 was in Albany; Partner Basil O’Connor handled the law practice on Nassau Street.

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