The 1912 election for governor began as a two-way race between incumbent M.E. Hay and King County Sheriff Bob Hodge. Hay was elected lieutenant governor in 1908 and ascended to the governor's position upon the death of Gov. Cosgrove.
Hodge was the early favourite in the race due to the popularity of the Progressive campaign of presidential candidate Theodore Roosevelt, but was relentlessly attacked in the press by the Hay-supporting Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He was pictured as an uncouth bully, partly due to his past as a prizefighter, but mostly due to allegations from his ex-wife that he was a lazy gambler and womanizer who left her to work to support the household. Hodge's lead evaporated, and previously ignored Democrat Ernest Lister was able to position himself as a nonpartisan candidate for disaffected Progressives. The strategy worked, and he narrowly defeated Hay. Hay believed that while the attacks on Hodge kept his foe out of the governor's office, it also turned off enough voters to his own candidacy for Lister to win due to guilt by association from the Post-Intelligencer.