M.D. HARMON: Senate race may be fun after all, as King falls, Summers rises
August 27, 2012
The race for the U.S. Senate seat abandoned in the face of inevitable victory by Sen. Olympia Snowe, in an epic bailout that could let Democrats retain control of the Senate, is getting interesting.
So, if the cable company has shut off your favorite channel and all the paint in your house is finally dry, perhaps I could interest you in politics. Aw, c'mon, it'll be fun.
One of the sidelights of the tripartite Senate campaign this year (not counting the minor-leaguers) is whether the Democratic Party has any chance of exceeding the 19 percent of the vote that its last candidate for governor, Libby Mitchell, received in 2010.
That question was raised when an early-summer poll showed the Democratic candidate, state Sen. Cynthia Dill, registering the support of a whopping 7 percent of the respondents, slightly surpassing Snooki from Jersey Shore.
That compares to the 27 percent support registered by the Republican candidate, Secretary of State Charlie Summers, and the whopping 55 percent who liked independent (cough) candidate Angus King, a former independent (cough) governor.
To put this in context, some Maine liberals have pasted an oval sticker on their cars containing the figure "61%."
That, of course, is the combined percentage of the gubernatorial vote received by Mitchell and independent (cough) Eliot Cutler, plus a couple of also-rans, all of whom lost to Paul LePage, the silky-tongued Republican in the race.
In the eyes of the sticker-appliers, LePage's legitimacy is supposed to be reduced by his rhetorical excesses (overlooking the actual results of his party's fiscal rectitude) and also by the shame he deservedly incurred by getting a slightly larger percentage of the vote than former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci did in 2006.
Republicans have turned the sticker upside down, to read "%19," as a reminder to the Donkey Party of its actual result. What the stickers will say after Nov. 6 remains to be seen.
Democrats, however, are hoping against hope to regain control of at least one house of the Legislature (assuming Mainers don't like the way Republicans lowered their taxes, cut spending, restored soundness to state pensions and balanced the budget, and will want to restore the party that was in power when the opposite was true).
Thus, it can't be helpful to have a Senate candidate whose nose is barely above water at the shallow end of the electoral pool.
And it raises the issue of how strong support is for Democrats overall, considering this could be the second major statewide race in a row in which the party gets its tail pinned to the wrong end of the campaign poster.
Republicans, on the other hand, are trying to gin up some appropriately moderate optimism by shopping around an Aug. 20 column by a conservative blogger for The Washington Post, Marc A. Thiessen.
The column has been making waves because Thiessen wrote that the recent TV ad buy from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, taking King to task for being a spendthrift who left Maine $1 billion in debt, resulted in a nearly 10-point drop for King in a more recent poll than the one cited above.
This appears to be good news for Summers, especially if the Chamber (despite the dismay of its Maine affiliates) continues to pound King in future ads, as Thiessen predicts it will: "The Chamber is all in."
As a Bangor Daily News blog revealed, however, the poll Thiessen cited was conducted by a firm that does internal polling for the GOP, and the Summers campaign contributed to its cost.
By itself, though, that doesn't make the poll's findings invalid. It's hard to see why Summers would want to pay for a shoddy poll, for example, and the BDN blog said the poll's methodology was sound.
But even if the poll (which had King at 46 percent, Summers at 28 percent and Dill at 8 percent -- reopening the issue of what defines a "minor-league candidate") was intended only to create campaign talking points, it's hardly unfair to attack King on spending and other issues.
A release from Lance Dutson, Summers' campaign manager, supported the Chamber's ad by quoting a Press Herald article dated Nov. 17, 2002, headlined, "Budget's balance precarious thanks to gimmicks."
In it, political writer Paul Carrier stated, "an examination of the recent budget-balancing shows that it relies on gimmicks that may backfire and also chips away at vital services. ... If problems arise from those cuts, they likely will add to the budget crisis that Gov.-elect John Baldacci and the next Legislature will confront In January 2003, when they deal with an estimated $900 million deficit."
More ads noting that, along with ones pointing out how deeply King nosed into the government trough for his former company's wind-power subsidies, may make him vulnerable after all.