Automatic for the People

Note: Please see edits below.

Maine Democrats are celebrating tonight, but I think they have a serious problem.

Let me back up.

State Sen. (Elect) Eloise Vitelli

State Sen. (Elect) Eloise Vitelli

Politics is fascinating.

Don’t puke just yet, at least not until you consider that observing politics offers the best of everything: intense drama, fierce competition and hilarious moments of human folly, all wrapped in a package of somber significance driven by human pathology.

It’s like a sporting event, a comedy show, and a night at the Met, all wrapped into a neat little package of 30-second installments.

Okay, so go ahead and puke now if you must. But for the rest of you consider this scenario.

It’s the middle of an all-too-short summer in Maine, where a state senator lands a sweet federal gig and must vacate his seat halfway through his two-year term.

He is a solid Democrat, a progressive, even…respected in his party (a former majority leader in the senate) and handily supported each election cycle by his constituents.

His district (State Senate District 19) is a reliable haven for his party: Mid Coast Maine, the home turf of Senator Angus King, Bowdoin College… not a hotbed of right-leaning conservatism, by any stretch.  Not really true, see edits below.

The Dems want to keep this seat. They still feel the sting of 2010 when they lost the Blaine House and both houses of the Legislature. Another gubernatorial campaign is already underway, and the Dems are absolutely committed to dumping Republican Paul LePage, who has repeatedly embarrassed his own party with ill-advised remarks and a stunning inability to control his temper and message.

Now, back to this sleepy senate district.

Two smart, savvy women lace up their gloves, representing their respective parties. A Green candidate also gets into the race.

Republican Paula Benoit

Republican Paula Benoit

More than $150,000 is spent on the campaigns during just a few weeks. It will likely top $200,000 when all the final campaign reports are turned over for public inspection next month.

It is, according to several political observers — including former State Senator Ethan Strimling — a record-breaking race for campaign funding in a state senate race.

The result?

A turnout of slightly more than 30 percent of the district’s registered voters, and a narrow victory for the Dems. Eloise Vitelli beats Republican Paula Benoit, who previously held the seat from 2006-2008.

Of the 8960 votes cast, the Democrats hold onto their seat by a margin of slightly more than 3  percent, 282 votes.

The Democrats are cheering and drinking bubbly tonight. They deserve the celebration. They worked hard.

But I think they will have a big hangover tomorrow morning.

How do you spend more than $100,000 and win by a little more than 3 percent when the Republican governor is trailing in the polls and you are running a campaign on your home turf?

Conventional wisdom says that the Maine GOP is in trouble and eating their own. Maybe.

But it seems pretty clear that Maine Dems have plenty to worry about between now and next November.


Edited to include Benoit’s prior election to the Dist. 19 seat in 2006.

Editor’s note: There is a peril to blog posting when you are a political junkie jacked up on Twitter, caffeine and cigarettes. Some glaring mistakes need to be corrected: 1.) Bowdoin College is not within Senate District 19. In fact, the town of Brunswick is not in Senate District 19, so you can also scratch my reference to Senator Angus King. I was consumed with the Brunswick Times Record’s endorsement of Benoit, thus thinking about Brunswick, instead of focusing on silly things like facts. Not smart.

District 19 may not be a Democratic stronghold, but it’s not a Tea Party demographic either. Like much of Maine, it is shifting and best described as purple instead of red or blue (Props to Gina Hamilton at the New Maine Times for that analysis). Republican Art Mayo who served in the seat from 2002 to 2006 switched parties and became a Democrat in 2004. Gina is much better at facts. Dan Demeritt (@DemerittDan) also pointed out that I did not include the tallies for the Green candidate in the race. Daniel Stromgren garnered 357 votes (4 percent), and Demeritt opines that of every four votes for a Green, one stays home, one goes GOP and two go Dem. So, you tell me: was Stromgren a factor?

In the end, I stand by my original analysis, despite my rush to publish and all of its associated pitfalls. Why?

1.) In 2012 (just last year) Goodall crushed his GOP opponent, Jeffrey Pierce (64-36 percent). Two years earlier, he trounced Republican David Kaler, 52-45 percent.

2.) Republican Gov. LePage is trailing in polls and getting widespread media attention for his gaffes, helping the Dems.

3.) The Dems had the seat and spent more than 100 grand to keep it. They got a 3 percent return for their money and a 30 percent turnout. What “message” are they sending to Gov. LePage? Do they really feel good about that? Really? They are not on easy street. Case closed.

Stick a fork in the GOP, they’re done

Maine’s next senator? John Baldacci…Bangor Daily News photo

Senator Olympia Snowe’s abrupt decision this week to abandon the national spotlight has caused widespread power outages, severe coastal flooding and scores of deadly tornadoes throughout the Midwest.

The unexpected announcement has also sparked dramatic spikes of violence, robberies and drug use in newsrooms from Caribou to Kittery, according to high-ranking law enforcement officials who say dozens of overworked reporters and copy-editors have “apparently snapped.”

During the chaos, more than 45 of Maine’s most prominent Democrats have been reported missing by their Facebook friends who do not understand how to use Twitter.

Office supply stores in Bangor, South Portland and Lewiston are reporting several cases of looting by “wild-eyed thugs” who bear a strange resemblance to former governors, state lawmakers and other notorious felons — all scrambling for a diminishing supply of clipboards.

“It was absolute pandemonium,” said Andrea Versay, an assistant manager at Staples in South Portland. “I saw grown men weep when we told them we were out of clipboards. I said we are expecting another shipment on March 16, but that just seemed to make them more upset.”

Senate hopeful? Rep. Chellie Pingree

Ok, so I may be exaggerating just a bit, but so are hundreds of delusional Maine Democrats who seem to think Snowe’s announcement signals the final death-knell of the Republican Party in Maine.

That over confidence can be found on Facebook posts and in the “reader comment” section of online newspapers across Maine.

You would think that someone dropped a house on the wicked witch of Falmouth. The munchkins are beside themselves with joy and dancing in the streets.

The Maine Republican Party is finished, they say.

In fact, one exuberant Democrat wrote: “The Republicans have been out of power in Maine for so long they do not have a strong, experienced bench.”

As communications director for the city of Real-ville, I would like to offer this news update for my friends and others who just awoke from a long coma:

The governor of Maine? He’s a Republican who got a larger percentage of the vote than John Baldacci did in 2006.

Governor Paul LePage

Maine’s current U.S. Senators? Republicans…well, sort of…but still Republicans who both voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

President of the Maine Senate? Republican

Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives? Republican

Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Treasurer? Republican, Republican and Republican.

Success rate of the last Democrat who ran for the Blaine House? 19 percent.

Results from Chellie Pingree’s last campaign in the First Congressional District against Republican Dean Scontras in 2010? 57%

Results from Chellie Pingree’s previous attempt to be a U.S. Senator against Republican Susan Collins in 2002? 41.56%

Total votes for the last Democrat who challenged Olympia Snowe (2006)? 26%

Bottom line? The Munchkins ought to exercise a bit of caution before an explosive fireball catches them off guard and sends them scrambling for cover.

Shaking the tree

Run for the cover! The world is ending! We are doomed!

Well, . . . not exactly, but the commentary surrounding Senator Olympia Snowe’s surprising decision has sparked intense political maneuverings from Kittery to Caribou.

Unfortunately, Snowe’s pending retirement has also inspired some wailing and gnashing of teeth by those who are convinced that Olympia’s dedication and distinction in the Senate simply cannot be replaced.

Even more people believe that Congress is completely dysfunctional and more combative than ever before.

I’ve got some advice for those people: Get a grip, take a sedative and read some history books.

While  a political “analyst” is nothing more than a political junkie who convinces people that his/her speculation is worth money, Snowe’s bombshell has provided a significant economic stimulus for those who work and play in public policy circles.

All over Maine, major law firms are hurriedly drafting and updating memos for their clients, analyzing the potential impact and fallout of Snowe’s departure.  Campaign strategists are buzzing, buried in chaos and unable to sleep.

Those who sell television, radio and newspaper advertising are eyeing second homes, planning exotic vacations and dreaming of off-shore account balances.

If you love politics, this is a great week to be in Maine.

Although I will stipulate that there is more scrutiny of Congress than ever before, we tend to overlook history as recent as 25 or 50 years ago when throwing about our political banter.

To better understand the context of our recent political machinations, let’s take a closer look at Snowe and the notion of too much “vitriol” within the DC Beltway.

Who is Olympia Snowe?

Snowe was born in Augusta, Maine, the daughter of the late George Bouchles, a native of Mytilene, Greece, and the late Georgia Goranites Bouchles, whose parents immigrated to America from Sparta. After the death of her parents, she was raised by her aunt and uncle, the late Mary and James Goranites of Auburn.

She gained national recognition in 2005, when she was named the 54th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine. In 2006, Time Magazine named her one of the top ten U.S. Senators. Calling her “The Caretaker,” Time magazine wrote of Snowe: “Because of her centrist views and eagerness to get beyond partisan point scoring, Maine Republican Olympia Snowe is in the center of every policy debate in Washington…”

In 1973, she was elected to the Maine House of Representatives to fill the term for the seat left vacant by the death of her first husband, the late Peter Snowe. She was re-elected in 1974; and two years later was elected to the 35-member Maine State Senate.

Following only one term in the Maine Senate, Snowe was elected as Maine’s Second District Congressional Representative in 1978. She remained in the House until 1994, when she won the Senate seat vacated by Sen. George Mitchell.

So, if Snowe could fill the shoes of George Mitchell — who filled the shoes of Ed Muskie — is it really hard to believe we can’t find a similarly qualified candidate?

A do-nothing, pathetic Congress?

Although most people love to jump on the Congress-bashing bandwagon, very few of them believe their senator or House representative is part of the problem.

Sadly, too many political analysts and newspaper editors have a rather narrow and selective view of political history.

Take, for example, this bit of tripe from today’s Portland Press Herald:

“If Sen. Olympia Snowe is really retiring from the U.S. Senate because she can’t stand the poisonous partisanship in Congress – and we have no reason to doubt her word on that score – then Maine is paying a terrible price for the rancor that has become business as usual in Washington, D.C.”

Still others say that Snowe’s departure signals the extinction of so-called “moderate” Republicans.


We only need look just beyond Maine’s borders to find moderate Republicans, such as Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire or Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts.

Not to mention that no one could reasonably say Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Utah’s Orrin Hatch or John McCain are anywhere near Tea Party favorites.

Hatch was a close personal friend of the liberal lion, the late Senator Ted Kennedy, and they worked closely on several pieces of legislation.

Ed Muskie

If anything, there is far too much moderation in the Senate and not enough people to stand up and cry foul when necessary. But the media won’t tell you that.

Why? Well, have you ever watched C-SPAN? It’s more boring than watching paint dry.

More than 99.9 percent of the time, both parties in Congress are working cooperatively and doing a super-duper, stand-up job of figuring out how to further screw the people they supposedly represent.

The system is not broken. It’s fixed.

But the media likes to focus on the Rand Paul’s of the world, or the banality of Rep Joe Wilson (R-SC) who shouted, “You lie!” during a State of the Union Address by President Obama.

That kind of partisan hype makes for better Facebook updates and newspaper headlines than the recent bipartisan push to reauthorize the Defense Spending Act; or last month’s transferring of budget line-item veto power to the president, a scary proposition for all of us, depending on who is sitting in the Oval Office.

Did you see that in the newspaper or on your favorite blog?

And let us not forget what happened just a few days after the “history calls” moment, when Snowe voted along party lines to ultimately reject passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare.

That nugget seemed especially important for Snowe to mention during last month’s Republican caucuses in Maine, where she was facing primary challenges from more conservative candidates.

Reportedly, Snowe votes along party lines nearly 75 percent of the time. Good for her! She’s a Republican, what do you expect? But does breaking ranks one out of four times make you a moderate? Please.

We have become a nation of sheep, bleating for civility and warm, fuzzy sentiment.

But what about Nancy Pelosi’s statements when the House was finally able to pass the controversial health care reform bill? We won…deal with it. Should Democrats be a bit more moderate and side more often with Republicans?

Rep. Joe Wilson

We conveniently forget the rancor that dominated the Continental Congress, the Burr-Hamilton duel, the partisanship that led to the Civil War, the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, the communists-hunting era of Joe McCarthy or the vitriol expressed by Barry Goldwater, not to mention the more recent call for President Clinton’s impeachment.

Maine people, especially, should be mindful of those lessons and our place in history.

Look at how the GOP slung mud at Ed Muskie; or consider the wisdom of Margaret Chase Smith as she chastised McCarthy: “Have you no shame, sir?”

So relax, people. Senator Susan Collins violated her own campaign pledge to serve only two terms and seems more than ready to grow old in the U.S. Senate.

Thus, the moderate-loving populace can breathe easy; and the political analysts can get some much-needed rest after the November elections.

Final thought: Senator Snowe gave more than four decades of her life to make Maine a better place. She served us with distinction and honor. She will be missed, but we will be okay and the sun will still rise in the east.

Thank you, Senator Snowe.