Ohio History Journal

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Martin Davey, John Bricker and

the Ohio Election of 1936



"There's something wrong in Columbus." With those words John W.

Bricker, the Republican nominee for governor of Ohio, opened the 1936 cam-

paign against his Democratic opponent, Martin L. Davey. Bricker's declara-

tion, more an accusation than a challenge, initiated a contest destined to be-

come one of the meanest in the history of Ohio. But the campaign did more

than that; it generated a bitter personal feud between two of the state's politi-

cal giants, a feud that lasted long after the election itself faded from memory.

Such a canvass seemed appropriate to the times. Nineteen-thirty-six was

also a presidential election year, and one of the most curious of those. First,

Ohio dominated the nominating season. Not only had the Republicans held

their national convention in Cleveland, but so too had several fringe groups:

the Townsendites, the Socialist National Party and the National Union for

Social Justice, blocs born out of the despair, anger and occasional zaniness of

the Great Depression.

This was also the election in which Al Smith, the Democrats' failed presi-

dential candidate of 1928, stood before an audience of Republicans in Carnegie

Hall and proclaimed, "I firmly believe that the remedy for all the ills that we

are suffering from today is the election of Alfred M. Landon."l Certainly

many Americans could appreciate Smith's disappointment over his party's

snubbing in 1932, but the Happy Warrior's apostasy must have caused a few

Tammany sachems to rumble in their graves.

No less curious was Literary Digest magazine's misreading of the political

auguries of 1936. A scant two months before the presidential election, a

Digest poll showed Landon leading Franklin D. Roosevelt by fifty-six to

thirty-seven percent.2 Democrats could rightly scoff on election night when

their man gave the Republican nominee one of the worst drubbings in the



Frank P. Vazzano is a Professor of History at Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio.


1. The Ravenna (Ohio) Evening Record and Daily Courier-Tribune, October 2, 1936.

2. "Through a Century in Repository Files," Canton (Ohio) Repository, September 2, 1986.

The remaining seven percent of those polled chose William Lemke of the Union Party.

Literary Digest selected names and addresses from old telephone books. Most of the

people who could afford phones and had not been forced to move during the Great Depression

supported Landon. Consequently, the Digest poll was badly skewed. See Frank Friedel,

America in the Twentieth Century, 3d ed., Alfred A. Knopf (New York, 1970), 339.