WARNING: If you are a partisan Democrat or Republican, you may not want to continue reading because this post will surely piss you off.
Nearly 24 hours after the polls closed, there is still a fair amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth going on here in Maine, where Republicans had much to celebrate last night.
All the pundits, professional and otherwise, have bellied up to the bar to offer their “expert” opinions and analysis about what happened last night, so please forgive me for piling on to the fray of analysis and speculation.
Throughout the day, on social media and around the water cooler, I have heard a wide range of opinions about why Democrat Mike Michaud lost his bid to oust Republican Paul LePage.
Many people blame Independent candidate Eliot Cutler. I disagree, I think Cutler was a factor but not that significant, let’s say 5%
Other people said the controversial “bear-baiting” referendum brought out “conservative/sportsmen” voters who would have otherwise stayed at home during a midterm. Wrong again, in my opinion. But let’s give this “factor” another 5%
Others have said that Gov. LePage was able to latch on to the Ebola hysteria that dominated the final days of the campaign cycle. This one I find laughable, but let’s give it 2 percent, anyway.
Still others have said it was because Michaud was an openly gay candidate. I have a fair amount of Republican friends, and I never heard this issue raised in conversation. But I am also a realist, and I know that awful bigotry does lurk everywhere, so let’s give that factor another 5%.
So far, if you add all these factors together, you only have 17 percent of the puzzle.
So, what really happened last night?
In my opinion, it was two things that really mattered.
For almost four years Democrats have howled and railed about how awful governor Paul Lepage is. In this campaign cycle, they spent boatloads of cash driving home that message. He is a bully. He is an embarrassment. He likes to kill puppies. He spews dioxins.
Let’s, for a moment, assume the Democrats were right that Paul LePage is the worst governor to ever occupy the Blaine House. Let’s assume he is the great Satan.
Well, if that’s the case, how do you lose against such a God-awful candidate? You nominate a weak candidate to take him on.
Everywhere I go, I hear people tell me that Mike Michaud is a “nice guy.” And that is the truth. I have met Mr. Michaud. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a nicer guy.
But you need more than being a nice guy.
Maine’s Democratic Party cleared the primary decks and anointed Michaud as heir apparent with no contest. On paper, it made a certain amount of sense. Michaud was from northern Maine, and he could probably carry southern Maine. He is a respected legislator and held his Second District Congressional seat for several terms. He is likable. A working-class guy just like you.
But Michaud’s campaign focused primarily on being “not Paul LePage.” Voters turn out to be for a candidate, not against a candidate.
LePage had the advantage of being an incumbent and trumpeted his accomplishments. No matter how you feel about the guy, he has a loyal fan base and they rallied like there was no tomorrow.
But all that only counts for 40 percent of why Michaud lost and LePage won last night.
What’s the missing piece of the puzzle?
History and voting trends.
Make no mistake, the President played a factor in this race and several others. Historically, the second-term mid terms are a major disappointment for the person sitting in the Oval Office.
The nation is weary and wants a new direction, away from the party that controls the White House.
Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane to 2006. George W. Bush was halfway through his second term in office. He lost Congress in 2006. But what was happening in Maine?
Gov. John Baldacci was seeking re-election. The Republicans nominated conservative Chandler Woodcock to take him on. But the Dems had other problems. Barbara Merrill, a former Democrat lawmaker from Appleton, filed papers as an independent. Pat Lamarche, the driving force behind Maine’s Green Party was also a candidate and threatened to peel progressive votes from Baldacci. Between them, LaMarche and Merrill got roughly 20 percent of the vote.
Baldacci still won because a.) he was a stronger candidate than Woodcock; and b.) because Republicans nationally and at home were useless during the waning days of the Bush Administration.
By contrast, Cutler only got eight percent of the vote, but it would be a major leap of speculation to assume that every one of those votes would have gone to Michaud.
In the end, Michaud was a mediocre candidate who ran an uninspiring campaign while his political party was suffering all over the country.
That’s what happened in Maine last night.