In terms of the contrasting political attitudes of Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, the outcome of the Presidential election most definitely rested on the topic of slavery's future in America.
The men ran the first time, using Presidential debates as a tool to inform the people of their views. Douglas was a Democrat, and his wish was to repeal the ban on slavery, and allow each territory (especially with regard to westward expansion) to make its own decision as to the laws they wanted to pass and the limitations upon them that they wanted removed. (This was known as "popular sovereignty.") All things said, Douglas was a man who fervently believed in the process of "democracy."
During his acceptance speech for the Republican nomination for the candidacy of President, Lincoln delivered these now-famous words:
“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” he declared. “I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided.”
The two men faced each other in seven debates to be held throughout the country. Though there was discussion of trade and the economy, the focus of the debates dealt primarily with the issue of slavery.
Lincoln lost the election of 1858.
Arguments over slavery continued. It was time for another Presidential election. Douglas went on a nationwide speaking tour; Lincoln stayed home.
The dispute over the Dred Scott case had helped the Republicans easily dominate the Northern states' congressional delegations, allowing that party, although a newcomer on the political scene, easily to spread its popular influence.
In 1860 every observer calculated the Republicans had an almost unbeatable advantage in the Electoral College, since they dominated almost every northern state.
Ultimately, Abraham Lincoln won the election in 1860. It would be this election that would galvanize the country toward civil war. The difficulty in the 1860 election was, as before, dissension over slavery. Lincoln was able to win the election without the support of any Southern states.