Politics & Other Mistakes: Caron’s comeuppance and comeback

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Alan Caron isn’t going to be Maine’s next governor. But he might be the one after that.

As an independent gubernatorial candidate, Caron was running fourth in a four-candidate field when he finally decide to drop out. His polling numbers were stuck in the low single digits. He wasn’t airing any TV ads. And the average voter’s reaction to his name was “Who?”

But those few people who actually pay attention to this stuff (all eight of them) had been impressed with Caron’s campaign style. He answered questions honestly and directly. He seemed to have a solid grasp of the issues. And he offered thoughtful solutions for many of the state’s most pressing problems. If he were a viable candidate, I would have voted for him.

But he wasn’t.

Which isn’t to say Caron couldn’t become one by the time the next campaign cycle rolls around (it starts about 24 hours after this election). He just needs to make a few simple corrections in his approach.

First, he has to stop pretending he’s not a Democrat. During his lengthy involvement in politics, Caron has been a radical left-winger, a moderate left-winger, a pro-business centrist, a pro-environment centrist and a slightly left-of-center independent. All of which amounts to being more or less a Democrat. Just admit it and move on.

The reason Caron didn’t run as a Dem this time probably had something to do with a fundamental misreading of the mood of the electorate. As one campaign insider told me, Caron “went independent because it seemed as if voters were pissed off at political parties. But it turned out voters weren’t pissed off at both parties. They were just pissed off at the other party.” Donkeys hated elephants. Elephants hated donkeys. Nobody had any extra emotion to waste on somebody who claimed to be none of the above.

The second mistake Caron made was expecting that the news media would pay attention to him because he had a genial manner and worthwhile things to say. But journalists are hardly ever intrigued by those qualities. We much prefer clueless crazies with weird attitudes (hello, Paul LePage). With fierce battles underway in both the Republican and Democratic primaries throughout the first half of the year, there was no time or space to be wasted on a less-colorful independent laboring under the delusion this campaign was some sort of intellectual exercise. Leave that stuff for policy wonks.

Caron’s third mistake was believing that voters weren’t concerned about the spoiler effect. After consecutive gubernatorial elections in which the 60 percent of Maine’s voting population that traditionally casts ballots for liberal to moderate candidates split their votes between independents and Democrats – resulting in the election and re-election of a bloviated right-wing house pest – there was an increased awareness that perhaps one needed to start thinking more strategically. Much as they might have liked what Caron and fellow-nonparty candidate Terry Hayes had to say, Democrats and other libs were disinclined to view the alternatives to their party nominee as viable options this time around.

Which brings us to the promise Caron made in a newspaper op-ed back in March: “Here’s my pledge to Maine voters: If it is clear, by mid-October that I cannot win the election, I will publicly withdraw from the race. Plain and simple. That is exactly what I urged Eliot Cutler to do in 2014 and privately recommended to Libby Mitchell four years earlier.”

Caron kept that promise, albeit a bit later than his words might have led us to believe. Now that he’s officially quit the race, there’s no longer any reason to even consider voting for him – at least in this election.

But 2020 or 2022 could be a different matter.

Caron did a lot of grassroots campaigning this year, traveling around to more than 400 Maine municipalities in a huge RV with his name on the side. Unlike a lot of politicians (hello, Bruce Poliquin), he seemed to find the experience of meeting voters in this manner both educational and enjoyable. He doesn’t strike me as the sort of person who’d waste all that on-the-job training by never running for anything again.

If you’re one of the few people with a “Caron for Governor” lawn sign, you might want to hang on to it.

So, vote already. If that isn’t enough to express your frustration, email me at aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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