By this time, President Joe Steele had had eight years to amass substantial power. Many of his enemies had been either executed for treason, or had died in mysterious accidents. Others had simply been exiled to some of the least populated parts of the country. In 1940, it was simply understood that Steele be running for an unprecedented third term, and he was nominated by the Democratic Party without competition.. It was also understood that he'd win again.
The Republicans had several contenders, but ultimately nominated Wendell Willkie. Upon his nomination, Willkie announced that he'd been a Democrat himself until Steele had driven him from the party. Willkie promised to take back the White House and the country's freedom.
The campaign took place against the backdrop of World War II.
Willkie was energetic in his campaigning, making speeches across the country. Conversely, Steele didn't campaign as much, leaving his machine to do most of the heavy lifting. He campaigned on a promise that he would not send Americans to die in any foreign wars. This was in spite of the fact that Steele had used Germany's Adolf Hitler as a boogeyman to whip up support and, at the same time, tar his opponents. In the six weeks leading up to the election, Steele frequently met with GBI head J. Edgar Hoover, who was digging up information to help Steele insure victory.
Steele carried higher percentages of the vote than he had 1936, which seemed rather inconsistent with how vigorously Willkie had actually campaigned. When Willkie did gave his concession speech on election night, he did acknowledge certain irregularities in the vote in some areas, but also acknowledged that they wouldn't change the result. He wished Steele luck.
Privately, Steele and his cronies were amused by the "irregularities"; while none of them said it out loud, the administration had engaged in quite a bit more to secure the election than the irregularities suggested.
The short story indicates that Willkie's run was a riskier proposition than in the novel, and that Willkie did little campaigning at all.
Like Steele in the story, the historical Franklin D. Roosevelt used the 1940 election to break with the long-established tradition of Presidents voluntarily leaving office after no more than two terms. (In 1951, the Twenty-second Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified to compel all henceforth presidents to leave office after two terms, so Roosevelt is expected to hold the record for longest presidency throughout all of American history.) John Nance Garner, assuming that Roosevelt would respect the two-term tradition, sought the Democratic Party's presidential nomination himself, and did not drop his campaign when Roosevelt sought the nomination for the third time. Roosevelt easily defeated Garner at the Democratic Party's convention, and this, of course, also marked the end of Garner's Vice Presidency (unlike in Joe Steele.) Roosevelt's new Vice President would be Henry Wallace. They defeated a Republican ticket of Wendell Willkie and Charles McNary in a landslide. Roosevelt and Wallace carried 449 electoral votes from 38 states while Willkie and McNary only carried 82 electoral votes from 10 states.
- United States Presidential Election, 1940 (Southern Victory)
- United States Presidential Election, 1940 (The War That Came Early)