Fifty years ago this month, Maine witnessed the finale of its last major primary election recount: the Democratic nomination for governor between Maynard Dolloff and Richard Dubord. It’s a campaign worth re-visiting.

First, however, a bit of background: The major statewide elections from 1954 through 1958 had seen a revitalization of the Democratic party in Maine. Three times in a row, Democrats had elected the governor, and had seated a majority of the state’s congressional delegation by 1958.

Though Republicans had maintained control of the Legislature, the Democrats seemed on their way to becoming the state’s majority party.

The trend was reversed in 1960. Maine afforded Republican Richard Nixon his sixth-highest vote total in the country, even though he lost nationwide to John F. Kennedy. The GOP also won an election for governor for the first time since 1952 and seized the upper hand in the congressional delegation. Republicans also preserved their solid footing in the state Legislature.

By 1962, some Maine Democrats some saw a renewed opportunity to restore their party to the Blaine House. Incumbent Republican Gov. John Reed, elected in 1960 with just 53 percent of the vote, was perceived as vulnerable.

The state’s poultry, shoe and textile-based manufacturing base had emerged from the late 1950s recession a bit more slowly than the rest of the nation.

Two prominent Democrats, Dolloff and Dubord, stepped forward to seek the right to oppose Reed. The primary campaign saw few overt philosophical differences between them, and both focused their aim at Reed on economic development and labor.

As a moderate Republican, Reed did not make an easy ideological target, although both Democrats took issue with the governor’s veto of a 1961 bill that would have allowed the Sunday sales of liquor.

The personal profile of the two candidates revealed more cleavage in their backgrounds: Dolloff, 48, had been a farmer from Gray who, along with his wife Phyllis, rose to head up the state’s Grange. Dubord, 40, was an attorney from a prominent Waterville legal and political family whohad been the state’s Democratic national committeeman since 1956.

Both entered the campaign with a base of recognition within the party. Four years before, Dolloff had been the “new guard” candidate who ran with the backing of younger party elements in opposition to 63-year old Clinton Clauson, whose roots within Democratic party leadership stretched back to the early 1930s. The narrowness of Dolloff’s loss in that primary had encouraged him to seek the office again.

(Clauson won the fall 1958 election, but his death at the end of 1959 led to Reed ascending to the office from the Senate presidency.)

Dubord’s renown had arrived with his 1951 election as Waterville’s youngest mayor, his 1954 keynote address to the state convention and his designation in 1956 as Ed Muskie’s successor on the Democratic National Committee, a position he would hold until George Mitchell succeeded him in 1968.

As the younger of the two primary candidates and as a closer protégé of such new-breed activists as Muskie, Dubord in 1962 took over much of the same liberal party turf that had four years earlier been Dolloff’s. As the older candidate of the two candidates, Dolloff appealed to more traditional, conservative party elements.

The candidates avoided face-to-face television debates — which even by then had become a staple of earlier statewide campaigns — and both defied ideological branding.

As Don Nicoll, one-time WLAM radio newsman and later a key Muskie aide, described in an email last week:

“‘Liberal vs. conservative’ was not a factor in that campaign. Dick Dubord was, like Ed Muskie, a pragmatist out of the Roosevelt-Truman traditions. Dolloff never expressed much in the way of political philosophy, but could probably be classified as a low-key, rural populist.”

It took more than a month after the polls closed on June 18 for the results to be ascertained, and then only after a recount of some precincts in York and Androscoggin County.

An unexpected blow to Dubord occurred in Biddeford, a Franco-American stronghold in which he had expected to do well. The city’s well-known conservatism trumped ethnicity, and Dubord lost the city by nearly 1,000 votes.

(It would not be until both Franco-American ethnicity and conservatism converged in a single candidate that Biddeford would cast its lot in with a winning Franco-American gubernatorial candidate: Paul LePage in 2010.)

Lewiston supported Dubord by a margin of 4,566-3,535. Even though the city’s 8,101 votes cast made up 22 percent of the primary statewide total, Dubord’s margin there was not enough to offsent gains by Dolloff in Biddeford and elsewhere.

During the third week in July 1962, Dubord requested retabulation of several precincts, including Biddeford and Lewiston. The recount confirmed Dolloff’s 227-vote statewide margin of victory out of the 36,000 ballots cast, and the young Waterville attorney conceded.

Overall, then, the Democrats weighed in about as they had four years earlier: the older and somewhat more traditional candidate narrowly edged out the younger and newer.

Paul H. Mills is a Farmington attorney well known for his analyses and historical understanding of public affairs in Maine. Email: [email protected]

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