Background and Party Conventions
After serving as president for close to two full terms, Theodore Roosevelt decided to step down in 1908, and gave his support to his loyal Secretary of Defense William Howard Taft. However, after returning from a year-long trip to Africa, Roosevelt began to split from Taft's administration, particularly on issues such as conservation. In the 1910 elections, Roosevelt supported several more progressive Republican candidates, which only encouraged the growing split in the Republican party between the conservatives and the progressives. Roosevelt formally announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination in February 1912. It was a long shot for Roosevelt to take the nomination away from an incumbent president, as most primaries at the time were decided by the state party machine, and not by ordinary party members. However, Roosevelt managed to do extremely well in the few open primaries that existed, even winning Taft's home state of Ohio, and it was clear that the convention would be a close contest.
The 1912 Republican National Convention, held in Chicago, Illinois, was a tense and contested one. In the weeks preceding the convention, the Republican National Committee began deciding the cases of contested delegates, who had been elected under possibly illegal terms. The committee was firmly behind Taft, and decided in his favor the vast majority of the time. Had more of these 254 contested delegates gone to Roosevelt, he would have been able to deadlock the convention. As it was, Taft went into the convention with enough votes to win on the first ballot, which he did. Roosevelt told his supporters to abandon the corrupt Republican Party and endorsed the newly formed Progressive Party. Later that summer, he was chosen as the first Progressive presidential nominee. Asked by a reporter how he felt, Roosevelt responded, "I feel as strong as a bull moose", giving the Progressive Party its nickname, the Bull Moose Party.
Because of the clear split in the Republican party, the Democratic nomination was a valuable one. The declared candidates for the nomination were:
Clark, backed by influential journalist William Randolph Hearst
and three-time presidential nominee (in 1896
, and 1908
) William Jennings Bryan
, became the early frontrunner
for the nomination, and had the most delegates coming into the convention
. He and Wilson were clearly the two progressive candidates in the race, in comparison to the conservative Harmon and Underwood. After 45 ballots of deadlock, and numerous shifts of allegiance
among the various state delegations, the ice was broken by Underwood, who withdrew his name from the race, giving his delegates to Wilson. Wilson won the nomination on the 46th ballot.
Roosevelt had hoped that the Democratic convention would nominate one of the more conservative candidates, so that he could run as the only progressive in the race. Roosevelt and Wilson actually had fairly similar platforms, with Wilson's New Freedom presenting only a small contrast to Roosevelt's New Nationalism. However, with a divided Republican party, it was almost certain that Wilson would succeed in becoming the first Democratic president in 16 years.
Final Popular Vote
Woodrow Wilson/Thomas R. Marshall - 6,286,214
Theodore Roosevelt/Hiram Johnson - 4,216,020
William Howard Taft/Nicholas Murray Butler - 3,483,922
Final Electoral Count
Woodrow Wilson/Thomas R. Marshall - 435
Theodore Roosevelt/Hiram Johnson - 88
William Howard Taft/Nicholas Murray Butler - 8
Note: The Socialist Party was strong in 1912 as well, running Eugene V. Debs and receiving 900,369 votes, or about 6%.
2004 World Almanac