Ohio History Journal

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The Feud Renewed: Martin Davey, John

Bricker and the Ohio Campaign of 1940



They were old enemies, Democrat Martin L. Davey and Republican John

W. Bricker; two fierce rivals posed against each other for the second time in a

contest for Ohio's governorship. Their first race, in 1936, degenerated into a

barrage of accusations and mudslinging. Their second, in 1940, promised

more of the same. If anything, as Davey's local newspaper, the Ravenna

Evening Record and Daily Courier-Tribune, predicted, the 1936 contest would

seem like a "skirmish" after the two went at each other again.1

Davey always provided the spectacular in his campaigns. In a political ca-

reer going back to 1913 when he was elected mayor of Kent, Ohio, at age 29,

he had demonstrated a dramatic flair second to none. The "boy mayor" served

his hometown for six years and then went on to three full terms in Congress

in the 1920s.2 After losing the 1928 Ohio governor's race, Davey won

twice, in 1934 and 1936. Flamboyant in every political arena, he was likened

to P. T. Barnum, "always a showman."3

Barnum-like he may have been, but no one understood voters better than

Martin L. Davey. Cynically, but accurately, he believed they could be

counted on to "vote their major prejudices," and he assiduously cultivated

those prejudices. His philosophy was simple: Ohioans would flock to the

polls to vote against a candidate but might have to be "dragged" there to sup-

port one.4 In addition, he maintained extensive mailing lists; postage and sta-

tionery were his greatest expenses in every campaign.5

No one worked harder to win than Davey. Typically, a campaign started

nine or ten months before the election itself when he mailed letters of inten-

tion to Democratic leaders and the party rank and file. Those letters more

than announced Davey's candidacy-they also solicited the recipients' advice.

Here Davey was especially astute. He knew the party faithful would be flat-



Frank P. Vazzano is a Professor of History at Walsh University. Research for this article

was supported by a Walsh University Faculty Scholar grant.


1. May 16, 1940.

2. Davey first filled an unexpired term in 1918 and then won elections in 1922, 1924 and


3. Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 1, 1946.

4. Ralph J. Donaldson, "Martin L. Davey," in The Governors of Ohio (Columbus, 1954),


5. Ravenna-Kent Evening Record and Daily Courier-Tribune, April 1, 1946.