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Davis: Campaign Buttons

My friend Ed Granai and I were nine years old when we decided that we needed campaign buttons promoting either Wendell L. Willkie or the incumbent, Franklin D. Roosevelt for the office of president. We wanted buttons from both. Republican headquarters were located upstairs in a three-story block downtown, where we climbed the stairs, paused a moment before opening the door, then Ed boldly walked in while I trailed behind.

The large open room contained desks, telephones and a large work-table. A picture of Vermont’s then-Governor, William Wills, hung on the wall.

Comfortably seated and working at the desks were three well-dressed women. An attractive lady smiled at us, and we both started talking at once, asking for Willkie campaign buttons.

She gave us the buttons along with some pamphlets. One read “Win With Willkie” and displayed pictures of the craggy-faced mid-westerner who was challenging Roosevelt’s bid for an unprecedented third term. The lady thanked us for stopping by and we left.

At Democratic headquarters, a wholly different scene met us.

The room was blue with smoke. And it was full of men – at least fifteen or twenty standing around talking and arguing. Most were dressed in work clothes that reflected days spent in the stone sheds.

As we entered, one of the men bellowed, “Well, here’s a couple of voters!” and everyone laughed. Then the same man growled, “What d’you guys want?”

He looked at Ed more closely and continued, “Hey, it’s Kio’s kid, young Granai!” Ed mumbled something about campaign buttons, and I edged toward the door.

Then another man exclaimed, “Hey Louie, that’s Deane Davis’s kid with him!”

He glowered at me as he chewed on the remains of an unlit cigar. “So what are you doing here?”

My father’s Republican politics were legend in the city. I looked at Ed. No help there. So I timidly repeated that we wanted some Roosevelt buttons. The man almost smiled. “Your old man know you’re here kid?” Then he declared, “We’ll give you buttons – but you got to wear them home!”

At that, an older man from the other side of the room came over and handed me a couple of buttons, said a kind word, and I knew we’d been rescued.

Seizing the opportunity, we scampered out of there, running toward home as the light began to fade in the late fall afternoon.

A few weeks later, Roosevelt was re-elected decisively.

Born in 1931, the son of Gov. Deane Davis and grandson of a State Treasurer, former Secretary of Human Services Tom Davis served Vermont under governors Hoff and Salmon, directed Sen. Patrick Leahy’s Burlington office, and represented New England for the US Department of Labor. In a recent series of interviews with producer/writer Mark Greenberg, Tom recalls some of the people he encountered during past political events and campaigns, and reflects on the changes he’s seen in a country and state that are radically different from the one he entered 85 years ago.
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