Saturday, August 23, 2014

Race of the Day- Maine Governor

73 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent
2012 Presidential Result: Blue State (East)

Outlook: Leans Democrat

It is hard to imagine a Governor more seemingly misplaced than Republican Paul LePage in Maine. He was elected in the strongly GOP year of 2010 and many admired his personal biography and straight-forwardness which set him apart from many politicians. He was also considered the most Republican candidate in the primary that year and won that with 37 percent of the vote. His luck continued as he won the general election with only 38 percent of the vote, as the Democrat nominee,who was the most liberal candidate in that crowded primary, fell into a distant third place in November, losing many votes to an Independent who ran as a centrist. That Independent was attorney Eliot Cutler, a lawyer, who had once worked for a Democrat U.S. Senator and later in the Carter Administration. Maine has elected Independents as Governor before and Cutler came within two points of pulling it off in 2010. However, he definitely served the purpose of splitting the vote and allowing a Tea Party backed conservative to become the Governor of a New England state where Republicans typically struggle in Gubernatorial contests.

While he has maintained his fans, many of whom are also the kind of voters who backed Ron Paul's Republican Presidential bids, LePage has been pretty controversial as Governor. He has been criticized for hiring his young daughter to a key staff position and for telling the local NAACP to "kiss my butt" over a dispute. Maine does not really have a ton of African-Americans, but that certainly made headlines. The Republican Governor cited the fact that he has an adopted black son. LePage also fought constantly with the Democrat controlled legislature, left-wing activists, and reporters. He said many things that raised a lot of eyebrows such as bringing up Vaseline in regards to what he thought a State Senator was trying to do to the people. All of this combined to give LePage very low approval numbers and to make him among the most unpopular Governors in the nation.

The Democrats have nominated a stronger candidate than four years ago as well. Several candidates declined to run, leaving the field virtually open for Congressman Mike Michaud. A former blue collar worker with strong ties to organized labor, Michaud had been around the state's politics for a long time and had passed up previous opportunities to run statewide. He stands to theoretically win over votes who thought that the 2010 nominee was too far to the left. However, Michaud was known, at least early in his Congressional career for being socially conservative on abortion. Since third party and Independent candidates can have a lot of influence on Maine elections that could be problematic for him. Thus, it was interesting that in November of 2013, the Gubernatorial candidate announced he was gay. He said it was something that was being whispered about, but that his personal life had no bearing on his ability to lead the state. Most observers do not believe that his coming out will have a negative impact on his political chances in the state, but it might serve the purpose of energizing liberals to support a candidate they might otherwise have doubts about, in order to elect the nation's first ever openly gay Governor.

So, why is LePage, whom did not face serious opposition for re-nomination, even still in the game at this point? Quite simply, because Eliot Cutler is running for Governor again. His presence, along with other third party candidates on the left, could produce a re-run of 2010 and split the vote in order to reelect the incumbent, perhaps with even less support than last time. Cutler, as the narrow runner-up four years ago, might very well have decided to run as a Democrat this time, but he has determined that he is an Independent and wants to be elected Governor that way. Just recently, he was endorsed, once again, by a former Independent Governor of Maine, who know serves as an Independent in the U.S. Senate, although one that currently caucuses with Democrats. Cutler had endorsed Angus King's Senate efforts in 2012, and he has now returned the favor by endorsing Cutler, over a Democrat who like King, also serves on Capitol Hill. Cutler has also claimed, to some disagreement by the GOP, that he was asked to join their party.

While polls have shown him consistently running in a distant third place, Cutler has refused to admit that he could once again be a spoiler in the election. He has said that if right before the election it looks like he cannot win, then his supporters should vote for someone else. Inherit is that would be a hope that if he has passed Michaud in the polls at that point, that Democrats would leave their party to vote for him.

LePage has gone on record saying he will either win in a landslide or lose in a landslide. I am not sure that is exactly going to be the case because of the vote splitting situation. As a Republican, I certainly hope that LePage finds a way to win, even though he is probably not my idea as being representative of the future of the party. There is much thought though that his opponents will learn the lesson of 2010 and vote strategically and that either Michaud or Cutler will see many of their supporters peel away towards the other if it looks like LePage could somehow win reelection. Upcoming debates may play a big part as to whom emerges in what amounts to a pseudo-primary as LePage's main threat.

I have to assume that the liberal voters as well as moderate Republican types who want a new Governor will be politically shrewd enough to vote strategically. If not, LePage may very well pull off quite an impressive feat for the second consecutive election. As a major party nominee, and the candidate personally near the top of the polls, Michaud should have the inside track of winning and beating somewhat of a fluke incumbent. If that happens, America will indeed have it's first gay Governor, and I am just amazed that some television network has not already produced a sitcom around that premise.

LePage campaign link:

Gubernatorial races predicted thus far: 6 D (1 Safe, 2 Leans, 3 Tossup) , 9 R (2 Safe, 2 Likely, 5 Leans)
Overall totals predicted thus far: 13 D, 16 R


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