Sunday, August 20, 2006

Maine Governor Race

Race of the Day

August 20, 2006
79 Days Until Election Day

Maine Governor

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2004 Presidential Result: Blue State (East)

Outlook: Tossup (D)

Politics in Maine can potentially be more unpredictable than any other state in the country with political parties existing as a somewhat weaker institution than would be found in most places. This year, Maine voters seem almost certain to comfortably return a Republican U.S. Senator and two Democrat U.S. House members to Washington, but the race for Governor is incredibly fluid and tough to get a firm grasp on.

In 2002, John Baldacci became the first Democrat Governor to be elected in several election cycles. He succeeded a two-term Independent,who was basically viewed as a centrist, after having defeated both Democrats and Republicans to win the top office in Maine.

While Maine is a state that is seen as being fairly liberal, Baldacci’s job approval numbers have at times beein quite low and he faces a difficult reelection race. Republicans and conservatives see him as being too far to the left, while many Democrats and liberals see him as not being far enough to the left. Add the strength of independent political movements in the state to the mix, and Baldacci’s political prospects are truly up in the air.

It might have seemed that Baldacci has lucked out by not having a serious Democrat primary opponent, but one of the candidates who considered a primary challenge to the incumbent is State Representative Barbara Merrill who is instead be seeking the Governorship as an Independent, which is fairly easy to do in Maine, and such candidates are also able to rely on public financing. The field of Independents and third party candidates will be quite large this year and the majority of them, and the most serious of these contenders will be coming from the left, as opposed to the right or the center, thus potentially taking away precious votes from what should be Baldacci’s base that he would need to be reelected. The presence of these candidates, which also include Green Party activist Pat LaMarche, who was the party’s 2004 Vice Presidential nominee will almost assure that whomever is elected Governor of Maine will win this race with a mere plurality of the vote and could possibly fall well under 50 percent. While Maine does have a recent history of eschewing the two major parties in Gubernatorial elections and electing an Independent, this year’s crop of candidates appear to be too ideological to appeal to a broad enough constituency to actually win the election outright or to finish in second place.

As for the Republicans, Baldacci might have lucked out a bit when a three-way primary was won by State Senator Chandler Woodcock, who was the most conservative of the Republican Party candidates and somebody whom many speculate may just be too far to the right to win statewide office in Maine.

The first polls coming out of the primary season surprised many by showing Woodcock in a dead heat with the incumbent or maybe even a point or two ahead. More recently, the bounce for Woodcock may have worn out as Baldacci has moved ahead to a lead outside the margin of error in the most recent poll from Rasmussen Reports, but still within single digits, and with him still well under the 50 % mark. One other poll even shows Baldacci with a very large lead, but with extremely little support expressed for the Independent candidates and with a large amount of undecided voters, as eve then Baldacci was held well under 50 %. Such a poll might prove to be an outlier. Polls before the primary had shown Baldacci failing to even receive 40 % against any of his Republican opponents.

Baldacci is certainly looking like a better bet than he was a couple of months ago, but for a variety of reasons, this race is one that will be very unpredictable to the end and one in which an upset is possible.

In a small population state like Maine, where grassroots campaigning is far more important than campaign war chests or slick television spots, challengers to incumbents can always feel good about their chances in a close race. This one will probably come down to who turns out to vote and who feels the strongest positive affinity to their candidate. While some of the most moderate Republicans could theoretically have a hard time swallowing Woodcock's conservative views, he could benefit if there is enough desire in the party to get rid of Baldacci. One of the more moderate Republican candidates may have been more electable in a broad sense, but they would have also run the risk of not having enthusiam among conservative voters and potentially losing votes to conservative Independent candidacies.

The Woodcock primary win was somewhat surprising, and thus he has shown an ability to turn out his vote. He will need that skill and some luck as well if he is to sneak up on Baldacci from behind and pull the upset. His ace in the hole would be to hope for a strong showing by Merrill and LaMarche, to the extent where he would only have to receive about 45 % of the vote at most, to win the race. If Woodcock can succeed in making the race about some of the more contentious state and local issues, he would also have a better chance than if the campaign focuses on national wedge issues such as abortion. The bow-tied clad Republican nominee would be wise to attach himself closely along the campaign trail to Maine's very popular moderate GOP Senator Olympia Snowe, who will crusie to reelection.

However, Woodcock's ideological positioning and some signs of Democrat consolidation over Baldacci out of fear of a conservative Governor make the incumbent a slight favorite in this unpredicable environment. When all is said and done, Maine Republicans may come up just short lament the fact that they did not nominate a more moderate Republican who could have been a more potent hopeful in this New England state.

Woodcock campaign link (no adult password protection required) :

2006 Governor races predicted thus far: 4 D, 11 R
Post-election total of Governors predicted thus far: 12 D, 17 R