1936 was a great year for Republicans…in Maine. That year Alf Landon won the state and two Republicans won seats in the House of Representatives that had been held by Democrats: James C. Oliver (1895-1986) and Clyde H. Smith. Oliver, who had run on a platform of generous old-age pensions and inflationary currency, quickly distinguished himself as different from what could be expected of Maine Republicans. For one thing, he was one of the most visible supporters of radio priest Father Charles Coughlin and for another he was most likely to divert from Republican orthodoxy on issues such as labor and public power although he stuck stronger to it on the minimum wage and foreign policy than his Maine colleagues Smith and Owen Brewster. Oliver’s opposition to Roosevelt was not so much a conservative one, rather the populistic sort of Father Charles Coughlin and Dr. Francis Townsend. By 1938, many conservative Republicans were opposing Oliver’s renomination, some even going as far as to back his Democratic opponent. He also supported the Townsend Plan as did Smith and Brewster when it came for a vote in 1939. In his six years in Congress, he got an MC-Index score of 62%. Oliver’s consistently non-interventionist record aged poorly in Maine after Pearl Harbor and in 1942 he lost renomination to Robert Hale. Hale was both an internationalist and more conservative on domestic issues.
Oliver subsequently served in World War II and in 1951 he switched to the Democratic Party. He seemed a top recruit for the Democrats and they didn’t seem to mind his prior record of supporting Father Coughlin as they nominated him for governor in 1952. Although Oliver badly lost this contest, he in 1954 and 1956 ran against Hale and almost defeated him the latter time. He tried once more in 1958, and prevailed. In his single term in Congress as a Democrat Oliver proved to be staunchly liberal, only dissenting from the Democrats on foreign aid increases in 1960. Along with Senator Edmund Muskie, he reflected an increasing openness of Maine’s voters to the Democrats. Unlike Muskie’s election, his comeback proved a fluke as he lost reelection in 1960. Oliver’s MC-Index score in his last term was a 6% with a lifetime of 48%. He subsequently continued his career in the real estate business and ultimately moved to Orlando, Florida, where he resided until his death.
Hagerty, J.A. (1938, September 11). Revolt Against Oliver – Republicans Increase Opposition to Promoter of Townsend Plan on Eve of Election Disaffection Among Republicans…Republicans Support Democrat The Townsend Plan Issue Robbery a Political Issue. The New York Times.
The Maine Primary. (1936, June 23). The Journal-News.
Townsend Active in Maine Race. (1936, June 14). The Sunday Star.