William E. Leuchtenburg’s article on the symbiotic relationship between President Roosevelt and Huey Long (October/November 1985 issue) rightfully centered on the unanswered questions of the 1936 presidential campaign: would Long ultimately run for the Democratic nomination and directly challenge FDR? Would Long form his own third party—a Share Our Wealth organization—for the fall elections? Would Long throw his considerable political clout behind a Republican in a bold attempt to remove Roosevelt from the White House and clear Long’s path for a try in 1940?
Obviously the questions entered the realm of conjecture when Long was assassinated in September of 1935. But a private poll, conducted by Emil Hurja, executive director and head statistician of the Democratic National Committee in the spring of 1935, provides some revealing glimpses into what might have happened had the Kingfish lived for the 1936 elections.
Hurja interviewed more than twentyone thousand people who voted in the 1932 election and concluded that Long could get 2.7 million votes as a thirdparty candidate in 1936. Applying the poll results to the various states, Hurja determined that Long’s appeal went far beyond his native South. Long could expect to receive more than two hundred thousand votes in each of three states, Ohio, Illinois, and New York. Sizable chunks of the Democratic vote in California, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Iowa could also be expected to go to Long if he attempted an independent bid. Depending upon the eventual nature and temperament of the 1936 campaign, coupled with Long’s probable distribution of votes in electoral-rich states like New York and Ohio, Hurja concluded that Long could steal the election from Roosevelt and hand it to a Republican in 1936.
The results so upset Roosevelt’s inner circle that James A. Parley, Democratic party chairman, took action to keep the poll quiet. In his 1938 book, Behind the Ballots , Parley said he made sure the Hurja poll was “kept secret and shown only to a very few people.”
It should have been no surprise, then, when Roosevelt in the summer of 1935—just a few months before Long’s death—remarked at a private party: “If I could, the way I’d handle Huey Long would be physically. He’s a physical coward. I’ve told my fellows up there that the way to deal with him is to frighten him. But they’re more afraid of him than he is of them.”
The columnist Arthur Krock overheard the President’s remarks, and they forever underline FDR’s preoccupation with the potential Long threat in 1936.