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The Fall Campaign in the Swing States
Republicans hoped to win four swing states that had gone for Cleveland in 1884—Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Indiana.  In the final month of the campaign, both parties focused attention on the two biggest prizes among the four:  New York (36 electoral votes, the highest number of all states) and Indiana (15, the sixth highest).  In 1884, the small but important Prohibition Party had been a major reason for the Republican loss of New York.  The Prohibitionist vote tally in state and local elections had grown significantly in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut during the years leading up to the 1888 contest.  Since the increase came mainly at a cost to Republican tickets, the GOP was particularly concerned about the sensitive issue.  In New York, Republicans stalled most Prohibitionist defections in 1888 by favoring high license fees for alcohol distributors.  In addition, Thomas Platt, the Republican state boss, ensured party unity, and Warner Miller, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, ran a vigorous campaign.  Miller lost by a slim margin, but the Prohibitionist vote was down by 11,000 from the previous state election (although slightly higher than the 1884 total).

For the Democrats, a major problem in New York was antagonism between Cleveland and Governor David B. Hill, who presided over the party’s powerful state political machine.  The president chose not to join opponents of Hill’s renomination (which occurred on September 12), but neither did he endorse the governor.  Nevertheless, Hill stumped loyally for the national ticket in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.  Another obstacle was that Tammany Hall, New York City’s Democratic political machine, focused its attention primarily on a bitter mayoral race pitting the incumbent Democrat, Abram Hewitt, against Tammany’s challenger, Hugh Grant, and Republican Joel Erhardt.  Tammany “Boss” Richard Croker was interested secondarily in reelecting Hill, a political ally and source of state patronage, leaving few resources to support the Cleveland effort.  Furthermore, Civil War veterans in New York were vocally unhappy with the president’s pension vetoes. 

In Indiana, Harrison was determined not to lose his home state.  It was the site of his “front porch” campaign and speaking tours by Blaine and other prominent Republicans.  Both the national and state campaigns were well coordinated and financed there.  The Democrats in Indiana had to defend the weak record of Governor Alvin Gray, but were able to attack Harrison for allegedly not supporting labor.  They cited the Republican’s leadership of troops that put down the 1877 railroad strike and his opposition to banning the importation of Chinese workers.  Indiana was notorious for the buying and selling of votes by both parties.  The only difference in 1888 was that in late October Democrats obtained and publicized a circular from a Republican national committeeman instructing Indiana party leaders to make sure that purchased voters cast GOP ballots.  The author claimed the letter was a forgery and sued for libel.  Although the document was probably authentic, and the lawsuit was dropped after the election, his reaction seemed to blunt the effectiveness of the Democratic charge.

The Election Results
On November 6, Harrison managed to win Indiana by less than 2500 votes and to capture New York by only 13,000 (out of 1.3 million).  They were the only two states to shift their electoral allegiance from 1884 and proved to be the margin of victory.  Cleveland carried the smaller swing states of Connecticut (by just 336 votes) and New Jersey (by 7,149), the Border States, and the Solid South, narrowly winning the national popular vote by less than 93,000, 49%-48%.  Harrison, however, gained the presidency with an Electoral College victory of 233-168, winning most of the Northeast and all of the Midwest and West.  The Republicans had run a well organized, coordinated, and financed campaign, with an energetic candidate, and a thematic emphasis on the tariff.  By contrast, the Democratic campaign was poorly organized, coordinated, and financed, with an absentee candidate, a counterproductive running mate, and a controversial record to defend.

Sources consulted:  Homer E. Socolofsky and Allan B. Spetter, The Presidency of Benjamin Harrison (Lawrence, KS:  University Press of Kansas, 1988); Richard E. Welch Jr., The Presidencies of Grover Cleveland (Lawrence, KS:  University Press of Kansas, 1987); and, Robert F. Wesser, “Election of 1888,” in History of American Presidential Elections, ed. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (New York:  Chelsea House Publishers, 1985).

 
 
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