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  • Senator

    Senator displayInstead of seeking a third term as Presiding Judge, Truman considered running for Congress, County Collector, or Governor. He was deeply disappointed when Tom Pendergast chose other candidates for these offices. Then Pendergast offered Truman something unexpected: his support for a seat in the United States Senate. He entered the Senate in January 1935, and loved the work he later said his years as a Senator were the happiest of his life.

    The Campaigns

    In a tough four-way race, Truman won the 1934 primary by 40,000 votes. Winning the Democratic primary in Missouri was much more challenging than winning the general election. Truman became a U.S. Senator. His 1940 reelection bid was much more difficult. The Pendergast machine was in ruins. He had no campaign funds and no support from President Roosevelt. Truman barnstormed the state, emphasizing his experience in Washington.

    "I was nominated by a plurality of 8,400 votes
    [out of 665,000 cast]
    in the August primary, after the most bitter,
    mud-slinging campaign in Missouri's history of dirty
    campaigns."

    Life in Washington

    Part of each year, Senator Truman's wife and daughter joined him in Washington, living in a series of small apartments. Bess and Margaret spent the rest of the year at home in Independence with Bess' mother. Harry hated the long separations. His frequent letters to Bess expressed his loneliness - and his longing to have his wife and daughter by his side.

    "It's a wrench to be without you.
    I never missed you so much
    before when I'd be away temporarily. Kiss my baby."

    Senator Truman in Washington DCThe Happiest Ten Years

    Truman said that his years in the U.S. Senate were "the happiest ten years" of his life. The Senate was a brotherhood unlike any other, and Truman was proud to be a part of it. His habits of hard work and self-discipline served him well. Usually in the office by 7:00 a.m., he tackled his tasks with energy and determination. Increasingly more confident in his abilities as a leader and legislator, he steadily overcame his initial isolation as the "Senator from Pendergast."

    War Effort Watchdog
    America was gearing up for the war effort as Senator Truman began his second term in early 1941. Responding to complaints of overspending and profiteering by the country's burgeoning military expansion, he became convinced that huge arms contracts were being awarded on the basis of favoritism. These contracts often favored big companies at the expense of small firms that lacked political influence, and in some cases were being forced out of business. Visiting military installations and war plants across the country, he discovered instances of gross mismanagement of defense dollars. Soon other Senators joined him on site inspections as his findings prompted a larger investigation.

    Truman Committee Hearings

    Responding to his report that millions of dollars were being wasted, the Senate established the Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program in March 1941 and named Truman its chairman. Known as the "Truman Committee," it was given broad powers to investigate the terms of defense contracts, how they were awarded, how contractors performed, the utilization of small businesses, and the effect of the defense program on labor. The committee - often at odds with the military services - became a "sympathetic critic" of the War Production Board and helped raise public confidence in the way the war was being managed. Estimates of money saved by the committee range as high as $15 billion, and his work brought Truman into the national spotlight.