The broad outlines of the Republican and Democratic strategies for the legislative races this year are transparently obvious. Statewide the Republican pitch will center on their achievements in the majority, i.e. pension reform, tax reduction, regulatory rationalization, welfare reform, elimination of health-care insurance restrictions.
Maine’s Democrats are compelled to rely on negative campaign themes. Such negativity is not an innate characteristic of Democrats as such. It is the inevitable response of a party shut out of power, therefor deprived of the opportunity to compile a positive record. This is what political parties do, no exceptions have ever been heard of.
The problem with their predictable negative strategy is that they will not―repeat not―be able to campaign for restoring the pension system as it was; raising taxes, undoing the regulatory reforms or maintaining the welfare status quo. If you doubt this assertion, wait and see. The Republicans can claim Democratic votes in the legislature for almost all their reforms and they have a ready-made negative response to the Democrats. That is, they can ask the voters if they were all that happy with the way things were before the 2010 election. And they can ask who created the conditions that required the reforms so many Democratic legislators supported.
What I foresee—and events will bear me out―is a negative campaign directed against Governor LePage. This was presaged by the special election in Cape Elizabeth to replace Cynthia Dill in the House. I have a copy of the palm card circulated for the Democrats’ candidate. It refers three times to Gov. LePage, who was not running for office that year, and not once to the Republican who was. It doesn’t matter that Paul LePage is not running in 2012. The continuous drum-beat of hostile coverage by Maine’s major media is their biggest asset for this negative strategy.
This may not be enough for the Democrats to regain their legislative majority. A Critical Insights tracking poll conducted from May 2 through May 7 this year finds that the Governor’s approval rating has dropped just 4 percentage points, from 47% to 43%, since the same measurement was taken in the Fall of 2011. It also found that 46% of those who believe that the state is headed in the right direction give credit to the “good job” the governor has done, while only 37% of those who believe we are headed the wrong way blame the governor. In the same poll those with a positive view of our direction attribute it to “improving economy/jobs” and 29% of the pessimists blame the bad economy for the state’s negative direction.
These numbers are not especially encouraging for the governor, but better than Governor Baldacci’s in 2004. Some of those who believe positive or negative trends cannot be exclusively attributable to the governor’s policies may have their political prejudices, but they are not wrong to recognize that a governor, or a president for that matter, does not have the power to direct a whole economy. All the same, Maine’s employment and economic conditions in 2014 will decide whether he can turn a 43% base into an electoral majority.
The question in 2012 is whether the anti-LePage sentiment can be turned into electoral victories in Maine’s legislative districts. The GOP candidates are free to separate themselves from Paul LePage and emphasize the achievements of their party’s majorities. They are free to identify themselves with the legislature’s “moderation” in opposition to the governor’s insistence of more determined and comprehensive reforms. Each of them will make their decision dependent on their commitment to LePage and their calculations about the voters’ sentiments in their districts.
All that comes under the heading of tactics, not strategy. Keep in mind that in Maine’s small legislative districts the biggest tactical component is the “personal touch” and a willingness to work hard at building majorities, vote-by-vote.
About the AuthorProfessor John Frary of Farmington, Maine, is a former US Congress candidate and retired history professor, a Board Member of Maine Taypayers United and an associate editor of the International Military Encyclopedia, and can be reached at email@example.com.
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