Hoover vs. Smith: the Race of a Lifetime

October 24, 2016

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As you all know, we are in the midst of a contentious presidential election, among the most contentious in American history. Yet recently the two major party candidates met for an evening of mostly well-mannered frivolity at the Al Smith Dinner in New York, for the benefit of the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation. This occasion brings to mind the race to succeed our own President Calvin Coolidge in 1928, when Republican candidate Herbert Hoover faced off against Democratic candidate Al Smith.

Herbert Hoover, whom President Coolidge referred to as “Wonderboy,” was the rip-roaring Commerce Secretary, a former mining engineer who spent many years in exotic places like China, Australia, and Russia finding ways to get things out of the ground (and becoming fabulously wealthy in the process). Running as the heir to the Coolidge Prosperity, he was a strong favorite to win the race from the beginning.

The Democratic candidate, Al Smith, was dubbed the “Happy Warrior” at the 1924 Democratic Convention by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Hailing from New York, Smith had a long political career in the Empire State, and went into the 1928 election as the state’s governor. The first Catholic to win the nomination of a major party for the presidency of the United States, Smith was the tribune of the ethnic Catholic immigrant population, particularly in the big industrialized cities of the North.

In the end, Hoover won a rollicking victory, 58 percent of the popular vote and 444 electoral votes. Hoover won in every region of the country, and even penetrated the Solid Democratic South, winning Texas, Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia.

A few years ago Foundation Chairman Amity Shlaes and National Advisory Board member George Nash participated in a tremendous PBS documentary about Hoover entitled “Landslide: A Portrait of President Herbert Hoover.” The documentary can be purchased on Amazon.

As we well know, the United States faced one of its most trying hours during Herbert Hoover’s presidency, yet the nation endured. Our story was not over. It won’t be over after November 9, 2016, either. No matter the election result, we will continue united as one nation.

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