On this day in 1912, the Progressive Party, also known as the “Bull Moose Party,” held its convention in the Chicago Coliseum. To date, the Bull Moose Party remains the strongest third-party challenge to the presidency of the past 125 years.
After becoming very frustrated with the policies of his hand-picked successor, President William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt entered the 1912 race for the Republican ticket. He entered the race late and despite outpolling Taft in most primaries, lost the nomination.
Undaunted, Roosevelt met with a handful of progressive Republicans to form its own party. The party was given its nickname after Roosevelt told reporters “I’m as fit as bull moose.”
Roosevelt may have had the energy, but the party had little support and limited funding. Nevertheless, 2,000 delegates attended and Roosevelt was nominated and California Governor Hiram Johnson was selected as his running mate.
Roosevelt pulled 27 percent of the popular vote and 88 electoral votes, compared to winner Woodrow Wilson’s 42 percent and 435 votes and Taft’s 23 percent and 8 votes. It still is the best showing by any third-party candidate in both the 20th and 21st Centuries.
The party did win a handful of congressional seats and remained a presence in American politics until 1916. One look at a its 1912 platform makes moderate Republicans and Democrats long for such a party today.