Zak Ringelstein is the perfect Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.
If, that is, you happen to be independent U.S. Sen. Angus King.
To ensure his re-election, King needs a Dem nominee who not only can’t win, but won’t cut into his middle-of-the-road base to any significant extent. Ringelstein – who has no name recognition, no political experience, minimal campaign organization, has lived in Maine for about 20 minutes, has too many letters in his last name and too few in his first – is King’s ideal choice.
In reality, it probably won’t make much difference who the Democrats pick as their 2018 candidate. The party hasn’t won a Senate race since 1988, when George Mitchell began his final term. That was also the year computer experts first discussed the idea of the World Wide Web and Conor McGregor of mixed martial arts fame was born. There might have been dinosaurs, too.
Back to the present. King is the odds-on favorite to win another term. The only official Republican contender is state Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn, who’ll attempt to make up for his deficiencies – no money, no statewide name recognition, a tendency to come across as slightly nuts – by bringing tremendous energy to the campaign. Brakey doesn’t take amphetamines because they’d only slow him down.
There is another member of the GOP who has discussed a Senate bid. But he’s both less energetic than Brakey and more obviously deranged. I’m referring, of course, to Paul LePage, Maine’s governor and noted Civil War fantasist. While enthralling history fans with creative interpretations of past events – the North had atomic weapons, Lincoln was a communist, George Mitchell fought for the Confederacy – LePage is merely pretending to consider a run. He has no intention of doing so.
That leaves us with King, Brakey and some Democrat willing to take such a thrashing at the polls that his or her name will forever after provide fodder for snarky political columnists, who can never resist the urge to mention that in 2012, Dem nominee Cynthia Dill got only slightly more votes than the number of rounds Conor McGregor lasted against Floyd Mayweather.
Which brings us to Ringelstein. He’s 31 years old, lives in Yarmouth, taught school in Portland, was born in New Hampshire, and has lived in such exotic locales as Uganda, Tanzania and Arizona. He and his wife, who’s from Rangeley, moved to Maine last summer after a brief but tumultuous career in the world of technology.
That World Wide Web that was being formulated back when Democrats still won Senate races is apparently now a thing. Ringelstein took advantage of that to develop a program that connected classrooms around the world for lessons. That got him named to Forbes magazine’s 2015 list of “30 Under 30” young entrepreneurs in education. It also led to Renaissance Learning buying his company and making him vice president of strategic partnerships, a job that lasted less time than McGregor against Mayweather. There was a lawsuit, since settled, and Ringelstein went back to teaching – and plotting his political career.
Which is likely to last only slightly longer than that job at Renaissance.
Ringelstein told me he’s running because he’s noticed our junior senator has a tendency to be sort of wimpy. “Angus King is somebody who likes to have it both ways,” he said. “He’s more likely to make a vanilla argument.”
Ringelstein is also annoyed that much of King’s campaign financing comes from out-of-state political action committees. He’s pledged not to accept money from corporations, PACs or people from away, which won’t be difficult because such entities rarely contribute to longshot candidates.
“It’s going to be grassroots,” he said. “I can win by being authentic, by being principled and walking the talk more than any other candidate does.”
On the issues, Ringelstein backs the standard Democratic platform: pro-choice on abortion, Medicare for all, tax the rich, end discrimination against transgendered people, support public schools over charter schools. But he doesn’t want to be mistaken for one of those ultra-liberal Portland Dems – even though he’s ultra-liberal, from the Portland area and a Democrat.
“I firmly support rural Maine values,” he said. “I really do believe there are two Maines, and we have to deal with the economic depression in rural Maine.”
Seems like the perfect candidate. For a third-place finish.
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