Saturday, September 09, 2006

Alf Landon


The son of an oil promoter, born on this day in 1887 in West Middlesex, Pennsylvania, Alf Landon moved to Kansas when he was 17, working in the oil business as a wildcatter and getting his law degree. He campaigned for Theodore Roosevelt's Bull Moose candidacy in 1912, and served as secretary to Kansas governor Henry Allen before being elected governor himself as a Republican in 1932 and 1934. In the process he drew national attention to himself as he bucked the tide against the Republican Party beginning with Franklin Roosevelt's defeat of Herbert Hoover in 1932.

At the 1936 Republican convention, Landon's status as the most strongly supported Republican in the nation won him the presidential nomination on the first ballot. In his campaign, distinguished by buttons and posters with Landon's demurely smiling face at the center of a big yellow sunflower (the state flower of Kansas), Landon focused mainly on the anti-business methods of Roosevelt's "New Deal," playing on tax phobia and touting "good government" in his earnest and sincere (and somewhat awkward, by radio standards) fashion. Despite a Literary Digest telephone poll which predicted Landon would win by a landslide, Roosevelt beat Landon mightily, 61% to 37%; the only 2 states Landon would carry were Maine and Vermont.

After the election, Landon retired cheerfully to Topeka and named his children's ponies "Maine" and "Vermont." Roosevelt later sent him to Peru to initiate Roosevelt's Latin American "Good Neighbor" policy. Over the years he became an American elder statesman, receiving heavyweight members of both parties (Ronald Reagan and Bobby Kennedy among them) as well as authors and movie stars at his home in Topeka. His daughter, Nancy Kassebaum, served as Republican U.S. senator from Kansas from 1978 to 1997.

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