Governor Thomas Marshall and First Lady Lois Marshall of Indiana - Source: Wiki Commons
Public opinion had grown less charitable to the idea of continuing half-hearted progress by 1912, and leaned into the idea of more serious, systemic reform to achieve economic equity. Reinforced with the reality of faux reform in Washington under Hearst, a more substantial fragment of the population now questioned the issues associated with a system based on exploiting labor. It was becoming increasingly common for one to belong to a labor union, and the stigma of joining a "radical" IWW local lessened considerably in the period between 1909 and 1912. Socialist editorials stayed prevalent in the public eye with subscriptions to newsletters like Appeal to Reason and Max Eastman's The Masses far surpassing figures in previous years. Enclaves of left-wing communities began sprouting forth in coastal and Midwestern regions, such as in the famously progressive Greenwich Village in New York.
Theodore Debs, the Socialist nominee's younger brother, managed the candidate's campaign and geared it to take advantage of recent developments. He ensured that the presidential effort appealed to young Village rebels just as fervently as it did so among union activists and traditional party members. Rallies numbered in the tens of thousands in support of the Socialist Party as the Red Express of 1912 traveled from town to town. Eugene Debs appeared alongside IWW leaders like Joseph Ettor, spoke in Denver with Bill Haywood, and enthralled crowds with Meyer London and Charles Russell at Madison Square Garden. He urged his listeners organize for industrial unionism and not be carried away with electoral reform as the be-all and end-all. "Revolution cannot be achieved in a day," he repeatedly stressed. "Never for a moment confuse reform for revolution and never abandon sight of the ultimate goal."
Not every unionized worker and social activist sided with the aging Socialist star, however. Although the SP's nominee captivated gargantuan audiences and obtained far more notoriety than in any prior election, the number of voters willing to offer their vote to that party was a distinct minority. All major presidential candidates voraciously professed some degree or another of pro-reform sentiment. Case in point, Governor Marshall looked to win over many of the same voters of Debs: Industrial workers, urbanites, and young and diverse communities. He reiterated his progressive record at every opportunity and tastefully pledged to accomplish similar goals if elected. Marshall named specific measures including expanding the primary system and instituting stringent guidelines on public officials to combat corruption (introduced during a critique of Hearst).
Marshall did not go as far as to support the eight-hour working day nor promote fundraising transparency out of a conscious effort to retain Southern Democrats in the coalition. Applauding expansive federalism would be impossible for the Democrat. With so many options available on the ballot to choose from, the last development he desired would be for Southerners to splinter the party. As thus, even though Marshall favored anti-trust action and economic opportunity for outmaneuvered small businesses, he could not offer the reform-hungry populations in the North and West much beyond that. Apart from proudly embracing prohibition, Marshall ducked any and all risky or controversial topics. His fellow Democrat in the White House, on the opposing end, was not held down by such strings.
August closed with four candidates in the ring. September began with five. President Hearst formally announced his plan to run for president as an independent on September 1st. Viewing himself as a sword-wielding hero atop a white horse, the incumbent declared that the political system was despairingly corrupt and necessitated a liberator. He began his campaign by voicing virulent fury toward Congress for knee-capping his presidency with a foolhardy, retaliatory investigation. He exclaimed that, "progress perished in the Legislature," and that the only way forward would be to elect self-reliant congressional candidates unaided by political parties and associations. This intense antagonism hardly helped Hearst's image, and, of anything, buttressed memories of the Manhattan Scandal to otherwise persuadable voters. He also no longer rallied against the state boss apparatus (ie, Boss Murphy) in the same tone that he had four years earlier. This likely propped up the perception of Hearst as a corrupt politician beholden to certain interests.
Still, not all was bleak for the incumbent. Hearst's status as a 'President without a Party' granted him incessant media coverage, and his base of dedicated proponents were not so quick to abandon their leader. As written by John Gardner, "Incumbency comes with certain advantages and disadvantages. One supremely essential plus in a presidential re-election campaign is brand loyalty, and Hearst had it. Regardless of the events of the Democratic National Convention and Marshall's presence on the campaign circuit, Hearst, as the sitting president, had friends in both high places and low places. [...] His managers took on more intensive roles in the autumn of 1912 as the campaign heated up, and they sought out to win support from a pool of responsive municipal groups and businesses. When unable to fulfill their task of achieving an endorsement, they would erect spurious counterparts - see Women's League for Hearst vs. National American Woman Suffrage Association."
Having invested enormous sums of private capital into the campaign thus far, Hearst was flat broke by early October. He spent an estimated $75,000 per week on the re-election effort, and when his own supplies ran dry, he took on immense loan debt. The president sporadically incorporated his fundraising difficulties into his campaign speeches, professing that the oil and steel trusts feared his reign and opted to sink his personal investments. Over the span of the first month of campaigning it gradually appeared as if he was losing his grip on the situation. His lifesaver market connections notwithstanding, Hearst was at severe risk of bankruptcy on a financial level and finishing dead last on the political front. Despite pushing endless campaign advertisements and editorials through his media enterprises, the president's figures in public polling were abysmal. In order to remain afloat, Hearst needed a new tactic.
The Des Moines Register
Presidential Preference Polling, October 1912
(P) Theodore Roosevelt 35%
(R) Thomas S. Butler 27%
(D) Thomas R. Marshall 25%
(I) William R. Hearst 09%
(S) Eugene V. Debs 03%
Four decent men and a scoundrel.
Is it too early to predict the split in the electoral college? The way this is going, it has a real chance of being thrown to the house - exciting, both as a story direction, and as an immense opportunity for good old
I wanted to take a crack at reading the tea leaves. The past few elections show clearly, that apart from the solid south, the entire country is probably an intense battleground:
The Mid-Atlantic to Midwest seemed like a major battleground, with all three major candidates being favorite sons and having some appeal to various bases there - though I'm really uncertain about the extent of the Republican support I've put there, outside Pennsylvania which I'm imagining is just a favorite son swinging a tight race between Butler and Roosevelt. The (northern) Plains Midwest seems more solid in its Progressive support if I remember correctly, while in the west I'm not sure about California, but I gave it to Roosevelt (except an echo of OTL that amuses me ) because I figured his VP nominee would help swing it. And, of course, voters might coalesce behind particular candidates as the race goes on, and there's any number of events that could completely change the face of the race, but assuming all three major candidates stay viable, I'm thinking the result will look somewhat like this.
If my math is right, this leaves us with a hung EC:
Edit: Been doing some more fiddling with colors, I think I have a pretty-nice set of one-party-leading, two-way-battlegrounds, and 3-way-tossup colors here:
The triangle of colors shows what the colors mean, for example green is a competitive election with progressives leading and republicans in second, yellow is a safe progressive lead, and yellow-orange is a competitive election with a progressive lead against the dems in second, while red-orange is a progressive-democrat race led by the dems, and so on and so on. If you're familiar with ternary plots used in scientific diagrams or infographics, it's the same idea. I originally had 16 colors, which was too many to be legible, and I'm also working on a cyan-magenta-yellow palette but that's still quite eye-burny.
View attachment 586314
I'm hoping the color scheme makes the meaning of the colors clear even without the triangle, so I can just take out the triangle rather than have to work on making it fit with the rest of the design