The Early Campaign
The 1936 campaign was one of the strangest in the history of American politics, and some observers at the time compared it to the campaigns that preceded the Civil War. In the 1930s, as in the 1850s, the political parties were in flux. The composition of the Democratic party had not changed for several generations, but, in the 1930s, Negroes flocked to its banners and organized labor virtually declared the party its own. This formerly conservative party, now under the leadership of the aristocratic Franklin D. Roosevelt, became the haven of liberals and progressives of all kinds, and Republicans, agrarians, and even socialists entered its ranks to an extent that was alarming to the party's regulars. The Republican party also was reconstituted, not only by the loss of many of its Negro, labor, and urban constituents but also by the addition of some conservative Democrats. Ironically, in 1936 the Republican ticket was headed by two old Bull Moosers, and its national committee was loaded with Main Street rather than Wall Street figures.
Third parties were still in abundance, colorful if weak. The Socialists and Communists fielded noisy campaign teams and joined in the race for power with the new Coughlin-Smith-and-Townsend Union party. Strong independent state parties arose to harass the major parties in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New York; and many Democrats abandoned their nominees to assist third-party and independent candidates.