November 04, 2014

As Maine goes, so goes: (a) the nation (b) Vermont . . .

In the November 1936 presidential election, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was reelected for a second term in a landslide victory over his Republican opponent, Kansas Governor Alf Landon.

Roosevelt received more than 60% of the vote and won in all but two states – Maine and Vermont.

On November 4, 1936, the day after the election, Roosevelt’s campaign manager James A. Farley gave reporters what would now be called a good sound bite.

“As Maine goes, so goes Vermont,” he quipped.

Farley’s witty remark soon became a famous humorous political quotation.

It was especially funny to political observers because it’s a take-off on the older saying: “As Maine goes, so goes the nation.”

What’s the origin of that venerable political proverb?

It is sometimes claimed to be based on the fact that Maine was the first state to enact a law prohibiting alcohol in 1851.

For example, an article published in the Boston Globe in 2000 said it “was coined at the peak of the state’s 19th-century temperance movement, in an era when New England shaped national opinion on fundamental issues from slavery to child labor to women's suffrage.”

But that temperance theory is wrong.

Nor is the saying based on Mainers’ record on votes for president. In fact, historically, Mainers have voted for a higher percentage of losing presidential candidates than many other states.

The saying “As Maine goes, so goes the nation” primarily stems from the fact that Maine once held its state elections for Governor, U.S. Senators and Congressmen and other non-presidential offices in September – two months before other states. And, the outcome of this unique early election was seen as an indication of how the political winds were blowing in general for the Democrat and Republican parties.

Maine’s September election, on the second Monday of the month, was created in its constitution in 1820, when it split from Massachusetts to became a separate state.

In presidential election years, Mainers also went back to the polls in November to vote on the presidential race.

In 1957, Maine changed its election law and, in 1960, started holding all general elections on the same November election dates as other states.

But even though Maine’s old September election tradition is gone, the traditional saying “As Maine goes, so goes the nation” has lived on – as has James Farley’s update, “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont.”

NOTE: If you’d like to read more about the 1936 election, FDR and James Farley, I recommend the book Mr. Democrat: Jim Farley, the New Deal and the Making of Modern American Politics.

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to November 4:

“It's alive! It's alive!” - The famous jubilant line of Dr. Henry Frankenstein, played by actor Colin Clive, in the classic 1931 film Frankenstein. The film, starring Boris Karloff as the monster, debuted at the Mayfair Theatre in New York City’s Time Square on November 4, 1931.

“The other white meat.” - The well-known, oft-satirized ad slogan of the National Pork Producers Council which, according to the Council’s trademark filing, was first used on November 4, 1986.

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