When the Nobel Prize was awarded Al Gore recently, the event brought to mind parallels with a Maine political figure who, like Gore, lost a major election but then went on to achieve high profile renown. Though the traits of the man who defeated Gore are well known, those of the man who ended Gov. Percival Baxter’s political career are not. Since he played an intriguing role in Maine history, those who do not already know him should meet Arthur R. Gould.

He is the man who upset Baxter, thus forever souring Baxter’s taste for further elective office and occasioning the former governor’s shift to a more humanitarian mission. He’s the man who, after overcoming opposition from a once influential Ku Klux Klan, became the first of our Maine U.S. senators to have been identified with the Catholic Church. He was also the first from Aroostook County. As a Northern Maine candidate, he benefited from his region’s anti-Southern Maine sentiments. In this, his campaign foreshadowed the outcome of Susan Collins’s 1996 win for the same seat over Portland’s Joe Brennan, a phenomenon of which Tom Allen can be expected to take notice.

The playing field on which Baxter and Gould did battle was the 1926 contest to fill the vacancy occasioned by the death of Bert Fernald. This would be the last special primary election in Maine history to have been convened for a U.S. Senate race. Baxter, a former two-term governor, was the favorite to capture the Republican endorsement in its primary, then tantamount to winning the election.

The 69-year-old Gould was not counted a serious threat to the 49-year-old Baxter.

His only time in public office had been a single term years earlier in the state Senate. His home base of Presque Isle was easily dwarfed by Baxter’s Portland. Though Gould had achieved affluence as a founder of both a local railroad and power company, he had minimal state-wide name recognition. Baxter, meanwhile, was not only a former governor but the scion of a family whose name had already adorned that of Maine’s most famous boulevard, named for Baxter’s father, a six term Portland mayor.

But Baxter, even though a staunch fiscal conservative, had been something of a traitor to his class, doggedly championing environmental and conservationist causes against influential power company and forest products interests during his time as governor. This earned him the enmity of highly placed adversaries. Among them was businessman and Bangor Daily News publisher Norm Towle, who prevailed upon Gould to make the run against Baxter.

Also in the mix was a third candidate, backed by the Ku Klux Klan. This was Maine Senate President Hodgdon Buzzell, a Belfast attorney. The anti-Catholic Klan had demonstrated itself a force to be reckoned with in the 1924 GOP gubernatorial primary when its backing had proven crucial in Owen Brewster’s unexpected win over establishment favorite Frank Farrington.

To be sure, by 1926 a backlash against the Klan was emerging. The Klan’s signature issue that year – a state constitutional amendment to prohibit public appropriations for private schools, a measure clearly aimed at Catholic institutions – had failed to win over Maine voters. Despite Governor Brewster’s support, the measure lost 94,000 to 65,000, in a September election held less than two months before the special Senate primary.

Nevertheless, the Klan could still aspire to swing the Senate race by achieving a mere plurality, which was all such a multi-candidate field would require.

At the same time the Klan was marshaling support for Buzzell, it was also leading opposition to both Baxter and Gould, Baxter because of his outspoken denunciation of the Klan and Gould for his identification with the Catholic Church. Though Gould was not in fact baptized a Catholic until shortly after the end of his Senate term in 193l, he had frequently accompanied his wife and children, all lifelong Catholics, to Mass.

Besides Klan support, Buzzell tapped into another populist vein, that of arousing resentment against the wealth of his two main opponents. Buzzell thus labeled Baxter, an heir to his father’s wealth, as the “blue-blooded millionaire” and the self-made Gould as the “red-blooded millionaire.”

But Gould was the beneficiary of ardent geographic loyalty. Typical of this support was Towle’s front page Bangor Daily advocacy, which warned that if Baxter won, both Maine’s senators as well as its governor would then be from Portland.

However, Gould by no means slighted the state’s largest city in his campaign. Purchasing a 15-minute spot on Portland’s WCSH (then a radio station) he took his campaign to Baxter’s turf, while at the same time, according to the Lewiston Evening Journal, he also became the first candidate in Maine to use the new medium of radio in a political campaign.

The day of the primary, November l, the same day headlines mourned the sudden death of Harry Houdini, Maine Republicans chose Gould as their Senate candidate. The tally, Gould: 25,900: Baxter: 22,138 and Buzzell: 15,199, was as much a surprise as the master magician’s death. Gould’s six-to-one Aroostook County margin of victory was complemented by support elsewhere, including Baxter’s Portland, which Gould carried by 120 votes. Such Klan strongholds as Brewer, Bar Harbor, Thomaston and Dexter went for Buzzell but its support did not resonate elsewhere in Maine.

By this win, Gould triumphed over a figure who was already a Maine icon. By their combined mandates, both he and Baxter made history by helping to demonstrate Maine’s repudiation of the Ku Klux Klan, one Gould reinforced with a 72 percent victory over the Klan-backed Democratic candidate in the election that followed four weeks later.

Although Gould’s subsequent accomplishments would never rival those of Baxter’s, or Gore’s for that matter, his Senate career and life fill a moving chapter in Maine history. They are ones that may be explored in a future column.

Paul H. Mills is a Farmington attorney well known for his analyses and historical understanding of Maine’s political scene. He can be reached by e-mail: [email protected]


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