Despite his highly acclaimed military career, Dwight Eisenhower had never exercised his right to vote; he avoided all things political. Beginning in 1948, the American people wanted him to run for president; even then-president, Harry S. Truman, tried to convince the general to become a candidate, to no avail. Truman surprisingly won a second term during which he became very unpopular as the Korean War escalated after he fired General Douglas MacArthur as commander of the United Nations forces. In 1951, prominent Republicans rejected Robert Taft as a candidate due to his isolationist views and began to encourage Eisenhower to run, because the country needed his expertise in fighting the Cold War and ending the conflict in Korea. In January 1952, he finally announced his Republican bid for the presidency.
The 1952 campaign and election of Eisenhower
At the Republican Convention in Chicago, Eisenhower won the nomination on the first ballot and chose Senator Richard M. Nixon as his vice-presidential running mate. The Democratic candidate was Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson, an urbane politician who appealed to liberal and moderate Democrats and who had very impressive credentials as a lawyer and government official. Stevenson, however, was no match for the war hero and respected General Eisenhower. With his "I like Ike" campaign slogan and his plain talk, Eisenhower visited forty-five of the states and spoke endlessly from his campaign train. His heroic image endured him to the voters, especially because he represented peace and non-violent ways of settling disputes.
The campaign of 1952 was cleverly strategized. Adopting a policy of never mentioning his opponent, Eisenhower, instead, attacked President Truman's failure to end the Korean War, the corruption during his administration and continuing communist insurrection in Europe. The voters expected Eisenhower to fix "the mess in Washington" and work for peace. Not only did he accomplish peace, his first term brought the U.S. a period of great prosperity, often referred to as the "Eisenhower Prosperity" period.
Dwight David Eisenhower's campaign and election in 1952 was a huge victory over Stevenson with 55% of the popular vote and 442 electoral votes compared to only 89 for Stevenson. Surprisingly, Eisenhower won more votes in the Democratic South than any other Republican candidate in history.
The 1956 campaign and re-election of Eisenhower
During his first term, President Dwight Eisenhower had been successful in accomplishing his most important international campaign promise of ending the Korean War, which he did by negotiating an armistice in July 1953, only seven months after taking office. His popularity across the nation was proven as his approval rating hovered between 68% and 79%, a feat rarely accomplished by any president.
Despite this popularity, there was not much expectation that Eisenhower would want a second term. In 1955, the president had his first major heart attack, which cast doubt on his desire to run and even on whether he was in a condition to run. Ike expressed his own concerns about his health to his doctors, but they assured him he was in a healthy condition and could certainly seek re-election. On hearing this, Ike is said to have commented: "I hope they know what they were talking about since the job of being president could not be performed by anyone who was not in good condition." On February 29, 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower announced that he would seek re-election for a second term.
Given the condition of his health, President Eisenhower and the Republican Party leaders understood that the person selected for the vice-presidential spot as the President's running mate had to be a perfect choice. Then Vice-president Nixon had done well with ordinary duties of the office, but he was not considered a seasoned leader by Eisenhower who saw a lack of "maturity" in Nixon. Eisenhower, ever the negotiator, tried to convince Nixon to remove himself from the ticket to no avail; the team became the nominated pair to run in 1956.
Again, the Democratic presidential candidate was Adlai Stevenson who chose Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee as his running mate. It was difficult for Stevenson to identify issues on which he could attack Eisenhower's record or performance; even using the fact that if something happened to Eisenhower, Nixon would become president didn't change the score. When Stevenson said that he would end the ban on nuclear weapons testing, which was supported by communist dictators in communist countries, Eisenhower denounced Stevenson for bringing sensitive security issues into an election campaign. America listened to Eisenhower.
President Dwight Eisenhower was re-elected for a second term, spurned on at the last minute by his handling of two international crises that could have led to war. He won an impressive victory over Stevenson with 58% of the popular vote, carrying a total of forty-one states. He also scored higher in the South and with a more diverse range of voters than he had four years earlier, even carrying Louisiana which had not voted for a Republican since the days of Reconstruction. The moderate, appealing president had scored a major political victory.
The two Eisenhower elections spoke more about the man who won them than about the policies the American public expected him to develop and support. His stance on world peace, civil rights and the infrastructure of America made him one of the most popular presidents in history.