The 1912 presidential election was a unique moment in the progressive era because it drew together political, social reformers, intellectuals, and economists onto a single stage and produced a many sided national debate about the future of America's economic, political, and social structure. The election consisted of four nationally recognized candidates William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Eugene Debbs. Taft was the republican incumbent. Roosevelt was Taft's predecessor, who had left the Republican party to form the new progressive party. Wilson was a democrat, and the ultimate victor in 1912. Debs was the Socialist party nominee, he looked forward to the election with greater confidence than ever before.
The central issue in the Election of 1912 was the rise of cooperate power. Cooperate concentration became the dominant issue in 1912 because of it's broad influence on social and political life in early twentieth century America, and all of the presidential candidates understood that organized wealth and business combinations were a pressing economic problem that had clear social and political effects outside the world of commerce. Also in the views of almost all participants in the election, monopoly was both a product of the breakdown of democracy and a sign that key American political institutions were in desperate need of reform. Progressives saw a fundamental connection between political structures and social and economic conditions, and, simply stated, they hoped political innovation would produce a more equitable society, which was their primary concern. Progressivism fought it's battles in political conteste, the courts, and legislatures, the solutions proposed by each candidate went to the heart of American social and economic life. There was no single strand pf progressivism, in fact progressivism was a broad movement created by the competing and intersecting ideas of early twentieth century reformers.