William McKinley had his pink carnation, and Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, because of their name, had ties to the rose. But in politics, there’s probably no other flower more closely associated with a presidential campaign than the sunflower. This Kansas state flower was the symbol of Gov. Alf Landon’s 1936 presidential campaign against Franklin Roosevelt, who was running for his second of four terms.
The eventual two-term governor of Kansas would find himself in an awkward position in the 1936 election against Roosevelt. He was a liberal Republican who supported a good part of FDR’s New Deal. While he thought it was too anti-business, it nevertheless was a plan that he found acceptable in many ways. He had supported Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 Progressive Party campaign, so taking sides that might be considered anti-Republican wasn’t completely foreign to him.
But Landon wasn’t to be president. In fact, the 1936 election still rates as one of the worst election defeats to this day. Roosevelt took 46 of the 48 states, with Landon losing even his home state. He won just Maine and Vermont, a defeat of 523 to 8 in the Electoral College.
Despite such a tremendous loss, Landon is a great candidate for collectors, especially those just beginning in the hobby. Despite being more than 75 years old now, it’s still possible to buy some Landon buttons for just a couple bucks.
Brown and yellow were the predominant colors of the campaign, and the number of items with sunflowers on them seems overwhelming at times. A collector could just specialize in sunflower items and the hunt would never end.
Landon has a few other claims to fame than his huge presidential loss. He lived a long life, to age 100, never running for political office other than his two terms as Kansas governor. He also was the father of U.S. Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum. She married Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee.
Besides Landon’s race, you’ll find the sunflower used quite often on campaign items for another losing Republican presidential candidate and Kansan – Sen. Bob Dole in 1996.
[Photos courtesy of OldPoliticals.com]