Tainted Love; Part Deux

It’s July, and according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the “Dog Days of Summer” are finally upon us. This is the time of the year when those of us in the northeast have a pretty good view of the constellation, Sirius – hence the “dog days.”

It is also the “quiet” month. The days are long and warm. It is time for frolicking at the beach, family barbecues and complaining about the tourists from Quebec and Massachusetts. Football has yet to ramp up its next season. The Celtics and Bruins are basically done for a few months; and the political season – my favorite – is just now gearing up for another relentless, knock-down, drag-out, hands-out- for-donations season on your favorite social media platform.

Here in Maine, the 2022 elections will feature what promises to be a sure-fire battle of the ages for the Blaine House as the once-every-four-years-gubernatorial election draws near.

Unlike the last three gubernatorial battles, this year’s match-up appears to be a straight-forward Democrat versus Republican race, pitting Democrat incumbent Janet Mills against Republican Paul LePage who is seeking a return to the Blaine House.

I will be watching this race closely because I am curious about how – or if – the absence of any real “independent” candidates will affect the outcome. But we still have some time before the campaigns really heat up and in only a matter of weeks, campaign signs will be littering every paved road in Maine – and on most of the dirt roads too.

Sure, staffers and volunteers from both campaigns are already working, but on the surface, I’m betting that things will remain relatively quiet until we get into the middle of August and especially in the days just after Labor Day.

Looking back

In previous gubernatorial races, Eliot Cutler, a so-called moderate who really likes children, was a spoiler in both 2014 and 2010, the races which LePage won with relatively narrow victories.

Republican candidate Paul LePage

Cutler is currently awaiting trial on child pornography charges, hence we will not be hearing much from him during this election cycle. That’s good news for Mills and bad news for LePage.

LePage won his first term as governor in 2010, capturing just 37.6 percent of the vote (218,065). Cutler, running as an independent, came in a close second with 35.9 percent (208,270) and Democrat Libby Mitchell garnered only 18.8 percent (109, 387) of the vote.

Cutler was hardly independent. Much like his role model, former governor and now Senator Angus King, Cutler is much, much more a Democrat than Republican. Maybe not a progressive Democrat like Libby Mitchell, but a Democrat for all intents and purposes.

Maine Democrats blame Cutler for handing the 2010 race to LePage. While he may have been able to peel off a few moderate Republican (is there really such a thing?) votes, Cutler was more centrist than Mitchell and thus was able to attract votes from the perennial “undeclared,” fence-straddle voters.

Four years later, LePage won a second term, this time capturing roughly 48.2 percent of the vote; Democrat Mike Michaud got 43.2 percent of the vote; and Cutler finished the three-way race, bringing up the rear with less than nine percent of the vote. The Democrats had learned their lesson, but it still wasn’t enough to beat LePage.

The 2018 gubernatorial race was pretty much a straight-forward match-up between Democrat Janet Mills, a former Attorney General for the state of Maine, and Republican Shawn Moody, a political outsider and successful businessman that founded Moody’s Collision, an-employee-owned company with several locations throughout southern Maine.

Gov. Janet Mills

Because of term limits, LePage was unable to seek a third, consecutive term.

Yes, we don’t want to overlook Terry Hayes, another so-called independent who lost her Democrat primary race to Mills in 2018, but still decided to go for the gold and wound up with a measly six percent of the vote in the November general election.

Mills won a solid victory with slightly more than 50 percent of the vote in 2018. Despite his political inexperience, Moody was still able to grab about 43 percent of the vote.

Looking forward

So here we are, facing the mid-terms and another gubernatorial election. Which candidate has the edge? Which candidate do I think will win?

Frankly, I think it’s going to be a pretty close race.

Before we go any further, let me say that this is just my opinion. I am not working or volunteering for either candidate. I don’t have any special insight or knowledge. Yes, I have a professional background in journalism and public relations, but I am really nothing more than an arm-chair pundit who loves politics.

My opinions and predictions are no more qualified than your opinions and predictions.

So, why do I think it’s going to be a tight race between LePage and Mills? Because I think a lot of issues on the federal level are going to impact the Maine gubernatorial race.

Gun violence, abortion rights and climate change could all play a hand in this year’s election. But this year – more than in any year for a long, long time – the economy is going to be a HUGE factor. As James Carville famously said roughly 30 years ago today, “It’s the economy, stupid!”

The incumbent, whether it is George H.W. Bush or Jimmy Carter, is always judged by the economy. Voters, whether it is right or wrong, primarily tend to vote with their wallets.

The last time, inflation was this bad, Ronald Reagan crushed Jimmy Carter’s re-election bid with just one sentence: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”

Many voters, including those in the middle, will hold Mills accountable for our current economic conditions. Just as voters are heading off to the polls, many of them will be feeling the pain of filling their home heating-oil tanks, still struggling with run-away inflation and soaring gas prices.

That said, other issues at the federal level could motivate more people, mostly Democrats and some middle-of-the-road voters, to the polls. Those upset with recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and recent mass shooting incidents may want to make their opinions known at the voting booth. This could be bad news for LePage.

LePage is a strong supporter of gun-owner rights and he appeals to “pro-life” supporters. He generally holds the concept of renewable energy as a waste of both time and money. He is regarded by his base as a fiscal conservative.

From where I sit, it looks like both LePage and Mills will have to focus heavily on their ground game, especially their GOTV (Get-Out-The-Vote) efforts.

Just go back and look at the numbers.

In both of his previous bids, LePage never hit the 50 percent mark — and that was with two left-leaning candidates in each race.

Mills supporters cannot afford any missteps. Yes, she has a strong base but she will need more than that this time.

I suspect that the LePage campaign will work non-stop to hang the poor-economy label on Mills. I can almost guarantee that they will link her to President Biden’s dismal polling numbers. Meanwhile, the Mills campaign will focus on portraying LePage as Maine’s version of Donald Trump, an evil boogeyman who hates women, puppies and pine trees.

So, who do I think will win? Honestly, I don’t know.

I do know, however, that this will be one of the most brutal and intense gubernatorial campaigns that Maine voters have ever seen.

Now, let’s sit back and watch. Your predictions are welcome.

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