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Another Democratic governor who became a presidential candidate in 1912 was Judson Harmon of Ohio.  As attorney general (1995-1897) under President Cleveland, Harmon filed two major antitrust suits.  Afterward, he returned to private practice and became a respected party elder.  He was elected governor in 1908 and won reelection two years later, defeating Republican Warren G. Harding (the future president) by 100,000 votes.  In office, Harmon eliminated government waste, exposed corruption in the management of state money, centralized the state’s charitable and penal facilities, and signed laws for an income tax and employers’ liability.  Under his watch the legislature passed laws for the direct election of the state’s U.S. senators and for ballot initiative and referendum at the municipal level.  His presidential candidacy stalled, however, when he announced in February 1912 that he opposed such direct-democracy reforms like the initiative and referendum.  He went to the convention as Ohio’s favorite-son candidate, with support from some party conservatives.

The frontrunner was Speaker of the House James Beauchamp “Champ” Clark of Missouri.  A supporter of tariff reform, a more flexible currency, an income tax, and the direct election of U.S. senators, he won favor from Western Democrats formerly aligned with Bryan, but he also received the endorsement of maverick publisher William Randolph Hearst .  However, Clark had a penchant for making impolitic statements and was considered by some to be a political lightweight.  Even though the Nebraska delegation endorsed Clark, Bryan worried that he could not withstand pressure from the conservative wing of the party.  At the end of the primary season, the House speaker had the largest number of pledged delegates (over 400), but lacked the necessary two-thirds majority for nomination. 

The Democratic National Convention met in Baltimore on June 25-July 2.  On its eve, Clark made a tactical error by supporting the choice of party conservatives and Tammany Hall, Alton B. Parker, as the temporary chairman.  Bryan tried to sway delegates to reject Parker, and Wilson followed the Great Commoner’s lead, but their efforts were narrowly defeated.  The incident reinforced Bryan’s fear that the House Speaker would capitulate to the party’s right wing.  Some observers believed that the Nebraskan was trying to deadlock the convention so that delegates would turn to him for a fourth nomination.  Whatever his intent, a stalemate among the candidates quickly developed.  Clark led on the first ballot with 440 votes, followed by Wilson with 324, Harmon with 148, Underwood with 117, and scattered votes for favorite-son candidates. 

The result varied little until the 10th ballot when New York switched from Harmon to Clark, giving him a total of 556.  Wilson initially released his delegates, but reversed himself when other states failed to follow the New York lead.  Convinced that Clark was in cahoots with Tammany Hall, Bryan announced on the 14th ballot that he and the Nebraska delegation were switching to Wilson.  Although an important endorsement, the change did not produce a turning point, and balloting continued past the 40th round.  The break came from behind-the-scenes negotiations between Wilson’s campaign managers and various state party bosses.  On the 28th ballot, boss Thomas Taggart switched Indiana’s 29 votes from Clark to Wilson in return for the promise that his state’s favorite son candidate, Governor Thomas R. Marshall, would get the vice-presidential nod.  With other deals, enough states came into the Wilson column so that he finally won on the 46th ballot, and then Marshall was duly nominated.

The Republican Campaign
Although he went on a speaking tour during the primary season, after his nomination Taft abided by the tradition of incumbent presidents not openly campaigning for reelection.  His political activities were limited to writing a few public letters on the issues.  Republicans relied heavily on advertising, and even showed a movie reel about their nominee in 1,200 theaters.  In contrast to the primaries, Taft refused to demean the character of his rivals.  Privately, though, he disparaged the Progressive Party and Roosevelt as “a religious cult with a fakir at the head of it.”  As the post-convention campaign began, Taft remarked to a friend, “I have no part to play but that of a conservative.”  Therefore, he defended the status quo against the policy proposals of his opponents.  He stood fast for the traditional Republican commitment to protective tariffs, warning that Wilson and the Democrats were free traders who threatened the nation’s economic prosperity.  He considered the Progressive Party agenda as even more ominous.  Referring to it in his acceptance speech, Taft spoke of radical ideas that would undermine “our present constitutional form of representative government and our independent judiciary.” 

Most of the professional politicians stayed loyal to Taft when Roosevelt and the Progressives split from the Republican Party.  Nevertheless, the president’s campaign organization suffered from a lack of money.  The GOP treasury collected about $1 million dollars ($18.3 million in 2002 dollars), only about half the usual total, since the major donors were reluctant to contribute to what they considered a losing cause.  Even the candidate had privately concluded that he would not be reelected.  The Republican ticket experienced an unexpected loss when Vice President James S. Sherman became ill after delivering his acceptance speech in August and was unable to campaign.  He died on October 30, six days before the election.  The Republican National Committee chose Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University (New York), to receive the party’s vice-presidential ballots when they were formally counted in January 1913.

The Democratic Campaign
The Republican breakup into two warring camps boosted the likelihood that the Democrats would regain the White House; they just needed to hold their base.  Wilson moved swiftly to harmonize the party after the long, divided convention by reaching out to Champ Clark and William Jennings Bryan.  It also helped the cause that the nominee could appeal to different constituencies.  Wilson was an intellectual who often used populist rhetoric, a Southerner by birth and a Northerner by adoption, a conservative in some of his views with a record of progressive reform, and the beneficiary of political machines who shunned pressure from the bosses once in office.  For once, the Democratic campaign was sufficiently funded and well organized. 

Although reluctant to campaign actively, the austere Wilson realized the tactic was becoming necessary under the new rules of the political game.  He complained about speaking from the back of trains, but became more comfortable with the process as the campaign progressed.  He engaged in speaking tours throughout the North, the Border States, and the Plains States, leaving the South as secure, and the Far West to Bryan, who enthusiastically campaigned for him.  Wilson avoided attacking his rivals personally, and had an amiable meeting with Taft after learning that he and the president was staying at the same hotel. 

Wilson dedicated nearly half of his acceptance speech of August 7 to arguing that protective tariffs favored special business interests to the detriment of the national economy.  Lowering the tariff was one of his few campaign promises.  On the issue of business regulation, he pledged that he was not seeking to destroy any legitimate business, nor did he consider the large size of corporations inherently bad.  Rather, he explained that trusts were created by special privileges bestowed by the government, and he called for strengthening antitrust laws.  In September, lawyer Louis Brandeis, a key advisor, helped clarify his thinking on the antitrust issue.  Calling monopoly “indefensible and intolerable,” Wilson distinguished his assertion that trusts thwarted economic competition from Roosevelt’s position that trusts were natural and should be regulated by the government.   

Wilson’s “New Freedom” agenda was promoted as a plan to reinvigorate popular democracy, but it exhibited skepticism of excessive government intervention.  In his acceptance speech, the Democratic nominee insisted that federal aid to those who “cannot protect themselves” was not “class legislation,” but he did not discuss most of the progressive reforms in the party’s platform, such as the income tax, direct election of U.S. senators, and labor laws.  Wilson remained mum on several issues throughout the campaign, refusing, for example, to take a public stance on the women’s suffrage, which he said was a state issue.  He never mentioned labor unions because he viewed them in a negative fashion similar to his opinion of business trusts, as a monopolistic combination that interfered with free enterprise.  In a Labor Day speech, he opposed a federal minimum wage, which the Progressive Party had endorsed, and told workers not to become government “wards,” but to remain “independent men.”  In many ways, his economic views harkened back to the simpler times of pre-industrial America.

 
 
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