Part 6: Chapter XXII - Page 148
President Roosevelt Casting His Ballot, November 7th, 1916 - Source: Wiki Commons
The victory of the Roosevelt Campaign in locking down New York State on Election Day set the novel tone that Bryan would, in fact, be the candidate playing 'catch-up' moving forward: A complete reversal of what most contemporary analysts predicted on the eve of the vote. Some hypothesized that either the Autumn Offensive would flood new, pro-Roosevelt voters to the polls or Bryan would sail to the White House on an antiwar wave, a backlash of the administration's foreign policies. In either case, prominent journals and newsprints like the New York Times considered Bryan the frontrunner, and wrote that a Roosevelt win would manifest only through a gradual, come-from-behind effort. Thus far, the exact opposite scenario was unfolding.
Progressives prevailed in areas that had grown accustomed to voting for the Columbian standard-bearer, including the densely populated cities of Newark and Jersey City, but it was not until the Democratic-tilted rural counties ticked in with their reported ballots that Bryan appeared on the metaphorical radar. Roosevelt was certified as the clear winner regardless of agrarian Democratic votes evening the score to some extent. Rural portions of the Garden State opting for the Democratic nominee was nothing new, though this trend was now exacerbated as never before. Agricultural workers and populistic tenant farmers returned to the Jeffersonian fold in droves, doubtlessly due to Bryan's unique appeal to these types of voters. President Roosevelt retained a modicum of support among this group for his conservation agenda and anti-trust reputation, but this was an absolute core of Bryan's base. One of Thomas Marshall's greatest flaws as a presidential candidate was his flagrant inability to captivate this exact crowd as excellently as Bryan did. Now Bryan was back on the trail, and it certainly paid off.
Four years earlier, Roosevelt conquered the West. He once nabbed the Great Plains with ease, wiped the floor with Governor Marshall in the Mountain states, and reigned supreme on the West Coast. Due to the mass exodus of farmers and other rural workers from the Progressive camp (and the distinct absence of Hearst splitting the Democratic vote) the American West was hotly contested. Bryan confidently regained Nebraska for the Democrats and did the same in the border states of West Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. Likewise, the depreciation of non-Democratic voters returned Wyoming and Colorado to Bryan - with the latter state's turnaround accredited to a November rally featuring Bryan with Senator Charles Thomas. Utah, thrice a Republican state on the federal level, shifted to the Bryan Column just as it did in 1896 and 1900. The Nebraskan may not have won over the Northeastern U.S. with his promise of a more moralistic nation, and Wilson's presence on the ticket may not have swayed the voters of New Jersey, but the nominee reawakened a dozing Bryanite crowd and effortlessly tapped into that often underrepresented electorate.
Democratic margins in the South were astronomical. Southerners despised Roosevelt, hated him for dragging the country to war, and deeply distrusted his expansion and perceived overreach of the federal government. Democrats did not quarrel with the president on the prosecution of trusts or other matters that contested the rule of consolidated industries, but they vastly disapproved of the breaking of the Washington doctrine (i.e., "no entangling alliances") and the ongoing push for mandatory service in the armed forces. Senator Watson's sentiments on this front were felt by Americans below the Mason-Dixon line, and they universally voted to elect Bryan president and Wilson vice-president. The Great Commoner outperformed his Democratic predecessors in the Solid South, scoring upwards of 90% of the vote in states like South Carolina and Louisiana. Remarkably, Seidel captured decent enough margins in Florida and Texas to land in third place over the totally absent and now thoroughly humiliated John Weeks.
Indeed, it was Emil Seidel, not Theodore Roosevelt, that attracted the scorn of William J. Bryan in the days preceding November 7th. The Socialist Party won favor by tens of thousands of disaffected Progressive voters, and it too fared splendidly with white, working-class voters. Bryan desperately needed a minimum plurality support by this voting bloc in order to stay afloat in the Midwest. Reports of Seidel's surge disrupted that quest. The Democratic nominee was uninterested in polling, a project he called "political gamesmanship," but the likelihood is high that he fretted over an overperformance by the left-wing political party, and much to his chagrin, the industrial Midwestern states were precisely where the Socialists did their best in this election.
Seidel won over 10% of the vote in unlikely SP havens like Florida and Oklahoma, but in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, the Socialist mayor shocked the system. He surpassed the total GOP vote in these four states, equaled the Democrats' in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and managed to outshine Bryan in the latter two. Wisconsin was, by far, the Socialists' strongest showing in 1916. The Badger State, where the mayor barnstormed at the start and end of his national campaign, delivered to the Socialist Movement an encouraging sign in the makeup of its ballot count. It resulted in Seidel's 31% of the vote to Roosevelt's 33%, Bryan's 26%, and Weeks' 10%. Debs took roughly 17% of the Wisconsin vote in 1912, Haywood managed 12% in 1908, but in no state had a Socialist succeeded in breaking the upper 20 percentile. It was astounding, and a discernible wake-up call to the powers that be.
Needless to say, Roosevelt carried pluralities in the Midwest with Indiana as the sole exclusion (To note, historians point to high numbers of German-Americans voting Progressive, not Socialists winning over Democratic voters, as the tipping point in the Midwest). Progressives' prosperous roundup of the industrial Midwest granted them a moment to breathe, but winning the election still necessitated commanding finishes in as many of the remaining states as possible. As such, Roosevelt grabbed Kansas, Washington, and the Dakotas as expected, succeeding in each with about the same percentages as 1912. The American Southwest, namely New Mexico and Arizona, was eventually called for Bryan with margins around 5-8% apiece. Bryan too won a plurality in Montana, Idaho, and Nevada - all states won by the Columbians four years ago and the former two since the inception of the Progressive Party. Oregon was called for Roosevelt on the evening of Election Day, and on the morning of November 8th the Californian Secretary of State confirmed the incumbent as the winner of the state's thirteen Electoral Votes - a win Roosevelt affably credited to Vice President Johnson, Governor Stephens, and Speaker Jones to the day he died.
Thereby, thankfully without the need of a contingent election, Theodore Roosevelt was elected to a third term as president of the United States.
He thereafter received 275 Electoral Votes to Bryan's 239.