Sunday, August 19, 2018

Maine Governor- Race of the Day

79 Days Until Election Day

Maine Governor

Status: Republican Open
2016 Presidential Result: Blue State (East)

Outlook: Leans Democrat

Perhaps nowhere outside of the 2016 Presidential contest itself, can Democrats look at an opportunity more wasted, than their last two defeats for the Maine Governorship. By virtue of a non-united party, a Republican was twice able to secure the office, in what is a largely liberal New England state, and not exactly a popular moderate Republican at that.

The good news for Democrats is that they will have another crack at it this year, in what is expected to be a year that is more favorable nationally to their party. It also seems possible that for all Maine's history of being receptive to Independent candidates for high office, it may be less of a factor in this contest than any other time in decades. It is worth nothing though that nobody has been elected to the Governorship of Maine with a majority of the vote since 1998, and no major party candidate has achieved that since 1986.

The last time the office was open was in 2006, and in crowded primaries, the Republicans chose the most conservative candidate and the Democrats picked the most liberal. That lead to a large opening for an Independent, Elliot Cutler, an attorney with past ties to Democrats, to run as an Independent centrist. Democrats abandoned their liberal nominee in droves and she finished a distant third. The winner though was Republican Waterville Mayor Paul LePage who edged out Cutler with  just 38 percent of the vote. While LePage had a number of supporters who admired his plain spoken style and rise from a hardscrabble youth, it is hard to see how he could have won a traditional race.

As Governor, LePage proved to be a bit of a Donald Trump prototype and was quite controversial and he feuded with legislators and the media, and was quick to fire back at opponents with insults. Many thought he was an electoral fluke who would be easy pickings in 2010. Democrats even united behind a somewhat socially conservative Congressman (who happened to be outed as gay during the campaign) for 2014, but Cutler was back for another try, and this time, appealed more to liberals than moderates. The fear of a split vote paving the way for a LePage reelection proved real and Cutler even gave supporters permission to vote for the Democrat, but nonetheless Cutler won 48-43. Could this election perhaps show what could be possible (and not in a good way for Democrats) if a third party candidate emerges as Donald Trump seeks reelection. One difference is that they are unlikely to pick someone with a political reputation for being a moderate or able to get votes across the aisle.

LePage has been even more polarizing in his second term and has survived efforts to impeach him. His critics have called him a hothead and a racist but he has persisted in sticking to his style. After initially endorsing past RGA Chair Chris Christie for President, he was one of the first Governors to support Donald Trump. Maine went blue on a statewide level, but Trump took the more working-class 2nd Congressional District and won an electoral vote out of the state.

The incumbent is now term-limited and once again, crowded fields emerges to run in the relatively small and politically inexpensive state. An interesting component of the 2016 primary season though was for the first time anywhere in America, Ranked Choice Voting was put into place by the legislature, meaning that voters could vote for their first choice, but also signify preferences for 2nd, 3rd, place, (and I believe still even further.) Democrats tended to be in favor of this and some candidates basically campaigned as a team asking voters to pick both of them either first or second, while Republicans largely opposed this new, and very European style technique.

As it turns out, Democrats needed a few "ballots" to pick their nominee while Republicans did not. The GOP winner with 52 percent of the vote was businessman Rick Moody, also a state University Trustee. Interestingly enough, Moody ran as second Independent candidate in the 2010 Gubernatorial election and finished in fourth place with 5 percent in LePage's initial election. This time around though, Moody was convinced to run as a Republican and his campaign manager happens to be LePage's daughter. He also had the endorsement of LePage's wife. Clearly, this faction of the party in Maine is still quite forceful. As for the more "traditional" Republican candidates, Maine's House Minority Leader finished in last place with just five percent of the vote. In second place with 21 percent was Garrett Mason, the 33 year old State Senate Majority Leader who was the favorite of many conservatives. In third place with 14 percent was Mary Mayhew, the state HHR Comimissioner under LePage, who resigned to run for Governor. Many thought she would have the potential of being the most electable Republican. She worked well with LePage on initiatives in offices, despite having a much different public personality. As seen though, the LePage people and family seemed to prefer Moody.

Seven Democrats were on the June primary ballot. The initial and actual first choice voting had the first place finisher at just 33 percent and it took about a week to sort all the Ranked Choice math out, but lo and behold, the candidates were eliminated in the order they placed in the actual voting, and state Attorney General Janet Mills would officially be nominated in Round 4 with 54 percent, when she was down to just one opponent. In Maine, the Attorney General is not elected or appointed by the Governor, but chosen by the State House of Representatives.

While seen as a liberal, Mills was definitely not the candidate in the primary furthest to the left, and and least a couple of her opponents tried to play up their progressive bona fides in contrast. Her brother is a former Republican State Senator who twice sought the Governorship himself. Those who finished in double digits during Round 1 in order of elimination were Mark Eves, the former State House Speaker, who had clashed with LePage but called himself a consensus builder. Next was the openly gay progressive activist Betsy Sweet, who had significant Democratic-Socialist support. Mills toughest competitor throughout the four rounds though was attorney Adam Cote, an Iraq War veteran and losing 2008 Congressional primary candidate. Cote was perhaps the most moderate of the major candidates in the field. When all was said and done, Ranked Choice Voting did not really change anything in regards to the outcome, as Mills proved to have more support than any one opponent, and was acceptable enough, especially to liberals, to be close on their preference lists.

Independents have played a major role in recent Maine Gubernatorial elections, and this year, two will be on the ballot, although others are running as write-ins, including an African-American former Democrat State Senator. It has often been a larger number. Nonprofit executive Alan Caron is running as an Independent but does not seem to have much traction. The other Independent candidate, who has more of a chance of being a factor is Terry Hayes, the State Treasurer. A former Democrat State Representative, Hayes was chosen by Republicans for the Treasurer spot and she is campaigning as a moderate. She also has the support of Eliot Cutler.

A recent poll though, post primary, shows that Hayes has just four percent support (only one point ahead of Caron), indicating that unless something changes, she is not really in the game to win the election. Nonetheless, if the race is close, she could once again play the spoiler role, and possibly to the detriment of either candidate. This Suffolk University poll surprised many by showing Moody and Mills tied at 39 percent. Sixteen percent of voters said they were undecided.

It might very well be that Mainers are reluctant to put any Democrat in the Governor's Chair, and thus Moody, who might not be too closely associated with the Republican Party, in the eyes of some, could have a real chance. My sense though is that the association with LePage and the desire to change will ultimately handicap his candidacy. At the age of 70, Janet Mills seems to be neither the most electable Democrat out of those who ran nor the most unelectable. It will probably be just enough for her to win this election, unless moderate Democrats find a reason to go Independent.

Gubernatorial Races predicted thus far:

8 D,  (2 Safe, 1 Likely, 2 Leans, 3 Tossup) 
7 R (2 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Leans, 1 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:

15 D (7 holdovers, 2 Safe, 1 Likely, 2 Leans, 3 Tossup)
14 R (7 holdovers, 2 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Leans, 1 Tossup)


At 1:48 PM, Blogger Democratic Socialist Dave said...

Corey, you don’t identify “Cutler” at the beginning. Presumably he is the unnamed “Independent, an attorney with past ties to Democrats”.

At 6:06 PM, Blogger Corey said...


At 4:17 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

The Dems have a good chance of winning back the Blair House.


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