In 1940, Roosevelt decided to run for an unprecedented third term, breaking the tradition set by George Washington that limited Presidents to eight years in office. FDR had been coy about his future for most of his second term, but finally told confidantes that he would run only if the situation in Europe deteriorated further and his fellow Democrats drafted him as their candidate. Nazi Germany's successful invasion of Western Europe and defeat of France in the spring of 1940 took care of the former condition; FDR's political operatives, especially Chicago mayor Ed Kelly, arranged for the latter. Not all Democrats, most notably long-time political adviser James Farley and Vice President John Garner, were pleased with FDR's decision to break from Washington's precedent. And conservative southern Democrats strenuously objected to FDR's vice presidential choice, Secretary of Commerce Henry Wallace, a former progressive Republican, but now a staunch liberal New Dealer.

miller center fdr 2

Republicans chose Wendell L. Willkie of Indiana, a corporate lawyer and president of a utility company, as their candidate. It was an unconventional choice. Willkie had voted for FDR in 1932 and had been a Democrat until 1938. While he opposed FDR's public power policies, especially the TVA, Willkie actually supported much of the New Deal's domestic legislation and was an internationalist in foreign affairs—controversial positions in a party with its share of vigorous New Deal opponents and isolationists. In many respects, Willkie was just the type of liberal Republican that FDR wanted to lure into the Democratic PartyDuring the initial weeks of the election season, FDR looked strong even though he campaigned only from the White House. Willkie proved lackluster on the stump and he seemed to agree with much of FDR's domestic and foreign agenda. In late September, though, Willkie began to tighten the race, largely by charging that if FDR won a third term, "you may expect that we will be at war." Roosevelt countered that he would not send Americans to fight in "any foreign war." Over its last month, the campaign degenerated into a series of outrageous accusations and mud-slinging, if not by the two candidates themselves then by their respective parties. On election day, FDR won 55 percent of the popular vote and the electoral votes of thirty-eight states. Willkie gained only ten states, but for Republicans even this was an improvement over their dismal showing in 1936.

Source: Source: Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia. “Franklin D. Roosevelt: Campaigns and Elections.” Accessed May August 11, 2016.

Anonymous.  1940. "For President Wendell L. Willkie." F.A. Russo, Inc. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 

Anonymous.  1940. "Carry On with Franklin D. Roosevelt." Lithograph.  Sweeny Litho. Co., Inc.