One of my Christmas presents was Doris Kearns Goodwin's new book on Lincoln, Team of Rivals. It's about his presidency, with the new angle of showing how he interacted with his team--Seward, Chase, Bates, and others.
The first chapter is about the day of the Republican nomination: May 18, 1860. No one expected Lincoln to be the nomination. His strategy was to be everyone's second favorite, and then to hope that all the leads would cancel each other out. He also had the strategy of not being offensive to anyone.
It was a quite effective strategy and of course it worked. He was not nearly as famous as the other candidates. He had only one stint in the House of Representatives and had failed in the previous two elections for Senate. Most people from outside Illinois would have had someone else as their favorite.
So if Seward didn't become the Republican nominee on the first ballot, Lincoln had a shot. Seward, and Chase for that matter, were the more hard core abolitionist candidates. But Lincoln reflected the founding position of the Republican Party--that slavery should be confined to the south and not allowed going forward in the West. Lincoln, along with Bates, was thus the moderate in the Republican field.
I like Lincoln, from his messy office to the fact that he consistently made others laugh despite a melancholic personality. I like his pragmatism. I imagine I would have taken the same position politically as a realist at the time.