In the greatest upset in presidential election history, Democratic incumbent Harry S. Truman defeats his Republican challenger, Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York, by just over two million popular votes. In the days preceding the vote, political analysts and polls were so behind Dewey that on election night, long before all the votes were counted, the Chicago Tribune published an early edition with the banner headline “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.”
Harry Truman was thrust into the presidency by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death in 1945. Approaching the 1948 presidential election, he seemed to stand a slim chance of retaining the White House. Despite his effective leadership at the end of World War II and sound vision in the confused postwar world, many voters still viewed Truman as an ineffectual shadow of his four-term predecessor. He also antagonized Southern Democrats with his civil rights initiatives. Most were sure that Dewey would take the White House.
In the last weeks before the election, Truman embarked on a “whistle-stop” campaign across the United States in defiance of his consistently poor showings in the polls. He traveled to America’s cities and towns, fighting to win over undecided voters by portraying himself as an outsider contending with a “do-nothing” Congress. Truman, a one-time farmer who was elevated to the pinnacle of American politics because of his reputation for honesty and integrity, won the nation’s affection, and he narrowly won a second term.