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The Primaries Predict a Problem

November 1, 2017

In 1912, Presidential primary elections were a relatively new thing, and the winner did not necessarily get that state’s delegates at the national party convention.  Political bosses had no desire to share power with the populace, but they did sometimes want to understand public sentiment.  For that reason, they were willing to tolerate a little innovation.

In 1912 only 14 of the 48 states had Presidential primaries, and many of these were nonbinding.  Since the Republicans did not have primaries in Florida or Georgia, former President Theodore Roosevelt entered only 12 primaries.  Senator La Follette of Wisconsin won two, President Taft won only one, and Roosevelt won nine, but that did not matter to the men who controlled the Republican National Convention.  On June 22 Taft was nominated to serve a second term.

The twelve primary states were California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.  In the general election, Taft would win none of these states.  He would place second in his native state of Ohio and in Massachusetts, the only state whose primary he had won.  In seven of these primary states he would come in third in the general election.  In California he would be a very distant fourth, trailing even the Socialist candidate by a wide margin.  In South Dakota, Taft was not even on the ballot for the general election.

Taft lost the Electoral vote in 46 of the 48 states.  He might have done better in a two-way race with the Democratic candidate, but he probably would have lost anyway.  But before we can give the details of Taft’s 1912 defeat, we must discuss the other candidates and their backgrounds.







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