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No. 7 JULY 2004
TAFT AND ROOSEVELT ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL, 1912


Teddy Roosevelt speaks to Sanduskians at the foot of the Columbus Ave., dock.
Note the "Teddy Special" in the background. (From the Charles E. Frohman Collection)

Ohio has been the scene of numerous political showdowns in the race for the presidency. Perhaps none excited residents more than the primary campaign of 1912. Fighting for his political life, President William Howard Taft set out on a weeklong campaign tour through his native state to battle his one-time friend and mentor ex-president Teddy Roosevelt. It was the first time a sitting president had campaigned during the primaries. Both men needed Ohio’s delegates to win the Republican Party’s nomination at the upcoming convention.

As Taft’s train steamed into Ohio on the 13th of May, Roosevelt was only hours behind. Thrilled at the prospect of so much attention, Ohioans along the campaign route quickly constructed makeshift speaker platforms, flew flags, decorated their homes and businesses, and organized bands and parades. With factories and schools closed, excitement reigned as thousands waited for the chance to see President Taft and the dynamic Teddy Roosevelt.

Roosevelt was on the attack from the moment the "Teddy Special" rolled across the state line, but he resisted calling the Ohio-born president a "fathead" as he had earlier in the campaign. When the platform collapsed just before his arrival in Marion, Ohio, Roosevelt climbed atop a freight car to speak to cheering crowds. In Sandusky, Ackley’s Band greeted Roosevelt’s train at the foot of the Columbus Avenue dock. Women and children, who made up more than half of the crowd, scrambled to catch "Teddy buttons" and candy tossed from the train.

At several stops, Taft’s train pulled away while he was in mid-sentence. At the State Theater in Sandusky, the president literally begged his fellow Ohioans for their votes. After 15 more speeches, the president grew so hoarse that he could barely utter a word. But Taft struggled on, traveling more than 3,000 miles before ending his campaign a day before the election.

As the returns rolled in, it quickly became apparent that Taft had lost the battle. Ohioans had turned their backs on their native son, presenting a grateful Roosevelt with a landslide victory. But in the end, Taft controlled Ohio’s state convention and that of nearly every other state, giving him enough delegates to win the Republican nomination. Furious at Republican Party bosses, Roosevelt bolted the party and made an unsuccessful bid for the presidency as an independent on the Bull Moose ticket.