Radio Free Europe

Governor LePage: winner or loser in 2014?
Governor LePage: winner or loser in 2014?

There’s one aspect of this year’s Maine gubernatorial race that has received little attention: where will dispassionate Republicans land on Election Day?

Four years ago, in what was largely a three-way race, Republican Paul LePage became Maine’s governor by securing approximately 38 percent of the vote.

Since then, much has been said about plurality, the merits of run-off elections and the so-called Cutler effect.

But little has changed in how Maine will choose its next governor, and today LePage is again on the ballot with two opponents.

More importantly, we don’t have Independent Shawn Moody (9 percent) to kick around this time.

Moody was always a long-shot, a late entrant, dark-horse candidate with broad appeal. At least a third of his support likely came from Republicans who were less than impressed with LePage’s style and tone.

From my perch, it’s hard to see how LePage has done anything to build his base, to draw in moderates; and I wonder where will those folks go. Will they hold their noses and vote for LePage? Will they hold their noses and vote for Cutler? Will they clamp down on their noses and vote for Democrat Mike Michaud; or will they leave their noses alone and just stay home on Election Day?

Many Democrats blame Cutler for LePage’s election in 2010. They say he split their party’s voting block and could do it again this time.

So far, Cutler is only a shadow of the threat he was in 2010; but even then his support came late in the game. Say what you will, but Cutler’s numbers will likely rise over the next few weeks as LePage and Michaud busy themselves with tearing each other down.

Recent polls have shown LePage and Michaud in a very tight race. So, I want to know where the Moody voters from 2010 will go; all nine percent of them.

Nine percent may not seem like a big number, but LePage simply cannot rest on his base of 35 percent. This time, the Democrats are working harder and smarter than they did in 2010. They are more unified and reaching for the middle.

LePage has an opportunity to draw in some of those moderate voters in the middle, but so far there’s been no evidence that he’s willing to court their vote.

So far, Eliot Cutler is the only candidate working really hard for the middle, the place where a growing number of voters call home. I doubt it will be enough for him to win, but I am positive that it would be enough for LePage to lose.


Cold as ice

ECThere are advantages to being independent, but there are also some big disadvantages.

If you don’t believe me, just ask Ted O’Meara, campaign manager for gubernatorial hopeful Eliot Cutler.

In an e-mail to Cutler’s supporters this week, O’Meara praised his team’s hard work and their ability to collect more than 5,000 signatures to ensure that Cutler will be on the November ballot.

But O’Meara also took a swipe at Maine’s political parties, pointing out that campaign rules discourage independent candidates from seeking office.

“Our work was made more challenging by the fact that Independents like Eliot have to collect 4,000 signatures, while the party candidates only have to collect 2,000,” O’Meara wrote. “It’s just the reverse when it comes to fundraising; Eliot can collect only half as much per contributor as the party candidates. 

“That’s right: twice the signatures, half the money. Guess who wrote the rules?”

O’Meara goes on to say that “self-serving election laws are the only thing the parties can agree on these days.”

It should be noted that O’Meara was more than happy to be a member of a major political party in the not-too-distant past.

In fact, O’Meara was once the chair of the Maine Republican Party and served as a staffer for both Senator William Cohen and Senator Olympia Snowe.

But his point about party control of Maine politics is valid.

In fact, members of both major parties ought to seriously ponder why an ever-increasing number of Americans are registered as unenrolled voters.

Being “independent” is gaining traction all across the nation, and that spells big problems for the big parties, especially when it comes to fundraising from a smaller pool of voters.

Although the party faithful generally point out that their candidates must endure the expense of grueling primaries, that’s just not the case this year.

Both Democrat Mike Michuad and Republican Paul LePage are unopposed for their respective party’s nomination.

Regardless of whether you support Cutler, we should level the playing field for all candidates. Let’s be independent together!


Cutler: On the defense, or on the move?

camplogo3With less than six months to go before the November election, all three of Maine’s gubernatorial candidates seem to be picking up the pace of their campaigns.

In traditional Maine politics, this sort of ramping up usually comes toward the end of summer, just ahead of a Labor Day surge that leads to an October sprint for the finish.

The early nature of this ramp up is likely tied to the results generated by two recent statewide polls, both of which show Democrat Mike Michaud and Republican Paul LePage in a statistical dead heat. Both polls also show Independent candidate Eliot Cutler in a distant third place.

The numbers from polling conducted by Rasmussen and Pan Atlantic SMS Group had to be disappointing news for Cutler and his team.

Video killed the radio star

Apparently, despite the dismal poll numbers, there is still some concern that Cutler could repeat the 2010 election results, by once again drawing from Democratic voters and giving LePage a second term with a plurality victory.

Cutler, with nothing much to lose, recently unleashed a campaign video to explain why he is NOT splitting the vote.

The video was captured during one of his campaign events in response to a question from a very young voter.

Releasing the video was a very smart move,  and it was a very dumb move.

It’s a smart move because Cutler uses video to portray confidence, leadership.

It’s a dumb move because it makes his campaign appear on the defensive some six months before the election.


Regardless of how you feel about Cutler, his campaign or the video, one thing is clear: video is an effective communication tool, especially when it comes to social media. Blogs are read, but videos go viral.

A study conducted in the United Kingdom last year showed what most of us know intuitively, yet what so many of us fail to recognize: A picture is worth a thousand words, but a short video is worth a thousand pictures.

The study showed that consumers are 27.4 times more likely to click-through online video ads than standard banners and almost 12 times more than rich media ads.

But here in Maine politics, the gubernatorial campaigns have yet to do very much in the way of integrating videos in their social media efforts.

As of this writing, the above video from Cutler (posted two days ago) has received 115 views. That does not sound good, right? Well, wait til you hear from the competition.

Mike Michaud’s campaign last released a video four weeks ago and it has received 63 views.

Paul LePage’s campaign released its last video roughly six months ago, but it generated 300 views.

Apparently, all three campaigns could use some work on producing pithy, yet compelling videos.

Another look at the numbers

On a final note, all three campaigns experienced a rather shallow 2 percent increase on their respective Facebook pages, but Michaud’s team scored an 11 percent increase in Twitter followers( 1,7111) during the past month, compared to 3 percent for LePage (1,754) and four percent for Cutler (1.377).

A little help from my friends

And just for the fun of it, I decided to see where my Facebook friends land when it comes to liking the campaigns.

I have 801 Facebook friends (though several do not live in Maine). Of those, 93 of my friends “like” Mike Michaud; 97 “like” Paul LePage; and 154 “like” Eliot Cutler.


Primary Colors

empty-pollsAllow me to make a bold prediction.

Voter turnout for Maine’s 2014 Primary Elections on June 10 will be absolutely dismal.

Taxpayers across Maine will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for an absolute non-event; an utter waste of time and resources, all in the name of a Democratic process that doesn’t work without a contest.

In fact, we will be lucky to see voter participation that exceeds the June 1996 state primary, when only 12 percent of eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot.

Think of it this way, it will be like buying a ticket to watch the Boston Red Sox play the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.

The winners have already been determined.

Unlike the June 2010 Primary four years ago, the gubernatorial candidates for each political party have already been chosen. If only one Democrat goes to the polls somewhere in Maine, Mike Michaud will clinch his party’s nomination in a landslide.

But in 2010, voters of both parties had lots of choices. There were four candidates seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination, and no fewer than seven candidates seeking the Republican Party’s nomination.

More recently, in 2012, six Republicans and four Democrats fought in the primaries for a chance to fill the shoes of U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe.

This year, Republican Susan Collins has already won her party’s nomination and Shenna Bellows is assured of being the Democratic Party’s sacrificial cow.

But what about the Maine Legislature and the crop of fresh faces ready to head off to Augusta?

Okay, you can stop laughing now.

In fact, you may want to cry because you and all of your neighbors will be funding an entire day of using municipal clerks and voting officials to collect ballots that hardly matter.

Of Maine’s 35 state senate seats, only four will face a primary challenge (three Democratic primaries and one Republican primary)

It’s not much different for the process to fill the 151 chairs in the Maine House of Representatives, where only 19 of the 151 races will see a Primary challenge (8 Democratic primaries and 11 Republican primaries)

In 132 of 151 House Districts in Maine, it doesn’t matter a bit  if you go to the polls on June 10. The races for the Blaine House, the U.S. Senate and the Legislature have been pre-determined.

Please do not disturb the slumber of your municipal clerks or voting officials.



Social media and Maine’s gubernatorial campaign

camplogo3Despite all the hoopla about the power of social media tools in political campaigns, what metrics can we use to determine if those tools are effective?

While just about anyone can set up a Twitter account or create a Facebook page, social media tools are only as effective as those who are using them.  Although it is widely accepted that social media tools played a big part in President Obama’s 2008 campaign, that type of success is not guaranteed by simply using social media as part of a campaign strategy.

When it comes to Maine’s 2014 gubernatorial race, which of the campaigns is best using social media? More importantly, how do we set aside our individual biases and evaluate the campaigns based solely upon their social media metrics?

At the Brookings Institute’s Center for Technology Innovation, Darrell West offers a mixed review regarding social media and campaign engagement and the awkward transition to actual governance.

Social media are the ultimate in disruptive technology. They change information delivery, business organization, online content, news coverage, and the manner in which individuals process new developments. As shown during the 2008 campaign, these digital tools represented a textbook example of voter mobilization and electoral impact. They were, in the words of Engage Partner Mindy Finn, the “central nervous system” of campaign organizations.

Using social networking outreach tools such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and Twitter, a number of Democratic and Republican candidates raised money, identified supporters, built electoral coalitions, and brought people in closer touch with the electoral process.

You may recall a somewhat silly and lighthearted piece about Maine’s gubernatorial campaigns that I posted a couple of months ago. Then, I jokingly said we should dispense with the standard election process and use social media metrics to determine the winner. I examined each of the campaign’s current metrics.

Twitter FollowersToday, I have decided to track those metrics on a regular basis and to blog frequently about those campaigns and their use of social media.

Over the last 60 days, each of the Maine gubernatorial campaigns has been active on various social media platforms. But before we begin, it’s important to note that Democrat Mike Michaud is the latest entrant to this race. Both Governor LePage and Eliot Cutler carried over their respective social media support from the 2010 campaign.

Nonetheless, Michaud has seen the greatest increase in social media traffic, earning a 21 percent increase in the number of Twitter followers @Michaud2014, moving from 1,219 Twitter followers on January 20 to 1,475 followers as of March 20, 2014.

Although Governor LePage (@lepage2014) has the greatest number of Twitter followers (1,698) his metrics have increased only 8 percent during the same time period.

Eliot Cutler (@EliotCutler) saw a 10 percent increase in Twitter followers, from 1, 153 to 1,269 followers during the same period.

Facebook LikesOn Facebook, Cutler still dominates in the total number of Likes for his campaign page (19,824) but saw only a 4 percent increase over the last 60 days, while both Michaud and LePage experienced increases of 10 percent.

LePage’s Facebook page had 18,438 fans on March 20, compared to 16,791 fans on January 20, 2014.

Michaud’s Facebook page had 11,600 fans on March 20, compared to 10,529 fans on January 20, 2014.

When viewed overall, it would appear that Team Cutler has the steepest hill to climb, so far.

Note: Though it’s generally common knowledge, it must be noted that Twitter followers and Facebook fans do not translate directly to the number of supporters for a political candidate. As an example, I follow all three campaigns on Twitter, but will only be voting for one candidate.

Who do you love?

me and the manThere is only one subject I find more fascinating than politics: psychology.

Some of us spend so much of our time focused on the candidates or those elected to public office, yet we barely scratch the surface when it comes to examining the people beyond the headlines and the hype.

Who are those people? You and me, the people in the streets.

At the risk of being redundant to the extreme, I find myself falling back again to the words of Henry David Thoreau: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

My rather loose, modern-day translation?

The masses (you and me) tend to operate on a day-to-day hamster wheel of human obligations: family commitments, jobs and financial security, concerns about the future and the occasional circus: The Red Sox, rock n’ roll or watching Honey Boo-Boo.

The masses crave bread and circuses. And abundance of both typically leads to a sense of apathy when it comes to politics.

This dynamic was true in the days of Caesar, and it has changed little today.

An abundance of bread and circuses allows us the luxury of ignoring the machinations of the political class. But take away the bread or the circuses, and all hell can break loose pretty quickly.

You’re dumb, I’m smart

I spent the better part of this weekend representing one of my clients at the annual Maine Snowmobile Show in Augusta.

As it is every year, statewide political candidates attend the show to press flesh and talk to prospective voters. In about a year, Maine voters will choose the state’s next governor. Today, there are three leading candidates: Republican Paul LePage, the incumbent seeking a second term; Democrat Mike Michaud, a member of Congress; and Independent Candidate Eliot Cutler, who is making a second attempt to live in the Blaine House.

I had the opportunity to speak with all three candidates this weekend. These were brief, perfunctory interactions. Like them, I was there in a professional capacity so — of course — those conversations were limited, professional and cordial.

Because I was working, I did not have the opportunity to follow any of the candidates through the show or to observe all of their interactions with other exhibitors and attendees.

Thus, my observations were anecdotal and certainly limited; but I was able to observe the candidates from a decent vantage point and had the luxury of hearing public reactions long after each of the candidates left the civic center.

I began to wonder about the motivations of those who support LePage, Michaud or Cutler. What makes those people tick? What drives their political preferences? Why do they react positively to one candidate and not the other?

I got some answers to those questions only a few moments after I posted a photo of me and Governor LePage. The reaction from my “friends” was equally swift and clear.

Posting that photo on my Facebook page caused a visceral reaction that brutally revealed a harsh reality.

The angels want to wear my red shoes

One man who I consider to be a close friend made his assessment of the photo with just a pithy comment: “Maybe 100 total IQ points right there.”

Honestly, that comment stung. Without any other context offered, my friend was speculating that Maine’s governor and I had a combined IQ of 100 points, literally translated: on average, the governor and I have a respective IQ of 50 points, meaning that neither of us would be able to function at even the most basic level.

My friend’s comment was endorsed by a couple other Facebook “friends.”

These very same people will be among the first to bemoan a sorry state of political discourse or to champion “civility” and a bi-partisan approach.

Take this to its obvious conclusion: Governor LePage is stupid and so are the people who support him or even those who have the temerity to be photographed standing next to him.

Further commentary on this photo ranged from those who said they would “vomit” if they were within a few feet of the governor to another friend’s description of LePage as a “useless turd.”

What causes such a visceral reaction? Why do people react with such emotion? I suspect it is motivated by fear.

Make no mistake. We see this same dynamic on the political right. Just mentioning President Obama’s name in the wrong crowd can ignite a bonfire of emotion and even asinine comparisons to Adolph Hitler.

A while back I wrote a piece about Sarah Palin and her appeal to so many of my fellow Americans.

When we dismiss Sarah Palin, especially when we run off the rails and make fun of her penchant for shopping at Wal-Mart, her religious beliefs or her love of hunting, NASCAR or her limited education, we are subconsciously pointing the same critical finger at the millions of those who are undeniably loyal to her.

Democrats bemoan the loss of moderate Republicans (code: Republicans who tend to support Democrats).

John McCain was described by the left as an honest, independent maverick who exemplified the proud, glorious and bygone days of a better GOP – – – right up until the day he was selected as the GOP’s nominee to take on Barack Obama in 2008.

Hands down, Governor LePage received the warmest reception at this weekend’s snowmobile show. It was not universal, but it was clear and undeniable. People flocked to him, offering hugs and encouragement.

Whether you like it or can admit it, the 2014 gubernatorial race will be a battle for the political center.

Democrats are at a disadvantage, just as they were in 2010, because their own party is divided between two candidates. The Maine Democratic Party needs a major win in 2014, especially since they were crushed by an “independent” candidate in last year’s senate race.

Democrats would be well-served to better understand LePage’s appeal to those who they routinely dismiss. There are plenty of reasons to vote against LePage, but they also need some even better reasons to vote for Michaud. Otherwise, they can expect the same results we saw three years ago.