Based on an extensive survey of the Maine electorate that I haven’t bothered to conduct, I can report with extreme confidence that the state’s next governor will be one of those nearly indistinguishable blobs seeking the Republican nomination.
To understand why the GOP is going to hold onto the Blaine House in the November election, it’s necessary to examine several factors, starting with the impact ranked-choice voting will have on the outcome. While that confusing form of selecting a winner won’t be used in the general election, due to the fact that it’s unconstitutional, it will be in force for the primaries, because nobody cares whether those elections are constitutional or not.
Actually, ranked-choice won’t be much of a factor in the Republican primary, where the five candidates all hold the same conservative positions on every issue, except that former Commissioner of Health and Human Services Mary Mayhew is a woman, and unsuccessful 2010 independent gubernatorial candidate Shawn Moody is a fire-extinguisher-equipped robot controlled by a weird political consultant. They’re all clones of current Gov. Paul LePage, only with upgraded interpersonal communications skills, except Mayhew, who’s just as unpleasant as the incumbent, and Moody, who’s a dolt. Any of these hopefuls could be the second choice of the right-wing supporters of all the others.
Experienced politicians such as Senate President Michael Thibodeau, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette would be sensible choices for the GOP nomination. But we’re talking about voters who backed Ted Cruz in the caucuses two years ago and Donald Trump in the general election, so sensible isn’t a major factor in their decision-making process. Unless ranked-choice inadvertently thwarts Republicans’ baser instincts, expect Mayhew or Moody to be the party’s standard-bearer.
On the Democratic side, Attorney General Janet Mills is the perceived front runner. I’m not sure who’s doing this perceiving, but that person has missed a major flaw in Mills’ candidacy: She’s nobody’s second choice.
Mills is a polarizing candidate who has alienated a significant portion of the Dem left wing by opposing water rights for Maine’s Indian tribes, pointing out that ranked-choice voting is unconstitutional and hinting that passing a ban on so-called assault weapons is probably unenforceable. As a result, party radicals see her as too conservative (what normal people would call moderate). She still might win the first round of primary voting, but once ranked-choice kicks in, she’s roadkill.
Adam Cote, a lawyer who talks way more than necessary about his military service, is as middle-of-the-road as Mills, but has less baggage because he’s never held elected office. Also, he has a less abrasive personality. He’ll get some second-place votes, but not enough.
Betsy Sweet is sufficiently liberal for the socialist set, but she’s spent her whole career as a lobbyist, lacks name recognition and has a weak campaign organization. Third-choice votes aren’t going to help her much.
State Sen. Mark Dion has supporters in Portland – and not much of anywhere else. He finishes just a notch above the also-rans, a nameless assortment of folks who really need to reassess what they’re doing with their worthless lives.
That leaves the Democratic nomination to former Speaker of the House Mark Eves, unvaryingly liberal, blandly inoffensive (except to LePage) and inspiring in no sense of the word. Still, in a confrontation with Mayhew/Moody, he might prevail. Except the actual match-up on the fall ballot will be more complicated than that.
Two independents are also running for governor. State Treasurer Terry Hayes and political consultant Alan Caron, both former Democrats, are campaigning as voices of moderation. If they were one person, that might not be a bad strategy, since there are likely to be lots of voters turned off by the extreme stands of Eves on the left and Mayhew/Moody on the right. But Hayes and Caron are two people, and, as such, they’re going to split the 30 percent of the vote they could potentially attract, leaving both of them far behind the major party nominees.
They aren’t contenders. They’re spoilers.
If past practice is any indication (looking at you, Eliot Cutler), two of every three votes the independents receive will come from people who would otherwise have supported the Democrat. That should be enough to tilt the final tally to the Republican.
Come the dawn of the day after Election Day, it’ll be the Mayhew/Moody composite spraying victory champagne all over the best laid plans of the Democratic Party.
Save this column so you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org in November to point out how wrong I was.