The Universal Notebook: Handicapping the gubernatorial hopefuls, hopeless

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Last week I attended a Democratic gubernatorial candidates’ forum in Brunswick. The sound system was faulty, the format frustrating and the moderator even more so, but despite these distractions I was able to get a little closer to deciding who to support and, given ranked-choice voting, in what order.

First, however, let me address why I won’t be considering any of the four Republican candidates. All four want to continue on the course charted by Gov. Paul LePage. Only in the bizarro world of LePage-Trump Amerika can a candidate run on a record of abject failure as LePage’s merry henchmen Mary Mayhew, Ken Fredette and Garrett Mason are doing.

Save money by throwing the most vulnerable off public assistance? Stand in the way of innovation, education and environmental protection? Thanks, but no thanks. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman observed in a recent column in The New York Times, the new Republican Party “is about petty cruelty turned into a principle of government.”

The fourth Republican in the race is body shop entrepreneur Shawn Moody, who has everything LePage going for him, including LePage’s daughter as spokeswoman. Moody, however, seems to have been studying at the Bruce Poliquin Duck-and-Cover School of Political Evasion. I guess he thinks if he doesn’t tell anyone what he really thinks, they can’t hold it against him. Personally, I’m not sure Moody knows what he really thinks.

Moody ran as a middle-of-the-road independent eight years ago, insisting he was neither a liberal nor a conservative. Now the LePage team body mechanics have souped up Moody as “a lifelong conservative.” So which is it, Shawn, were you lying then or are you lying now?

There are a handful of independents in the race, the most viable of whom is public policy activist Alan Caron. Caron, as founder of GrowSmart Maine and Envision Maine and author of two books on Maine government and the economy, has probably worked as hard on creating good government in Maine as anyone in the race. But the most important qualification any candidate can have this year is the ability to win and I just don’t think my old friend Alan can.

Who can beat Moody or Mayhew was what I had in mind when I went to the Democratic candidate forum.

Former Biddeford Mayor Donna Dion was the easiest to eliminate. Not sure why she thinks she should run for governor. She just keeps chirping “Audit! Audit.” I could vote for Portland progressives Mark Dion and Diane Russell, but I don’t think either would have statewide appeal. Former Maine Women’s Lobby director Betsy Sweet was perhaps the most articulate of the Democrats and the candidate whose views most closely align with my own, but, with electability as the standard, I’m just afraid Maine needs to elect a woman governor before it can elect a lesbian governor.

That leaves Attorney General Janet Mills, former Speaker of the House Mark Eves and attorney/businessman Adam Cote.

Eves, the most progressive of the three, said he did not think a moderate Democrat, which is what Mills and Cote are, could beat the Republicans. I think he’s wrong. I am a liberal Democrat who believes a moderate Democrat is just what’s needed at the moment. Centrist Democrats are winning elections all over Trump Country: Patty Schachtner in Wisconsin, Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania, Doug Jones in Alabama.

So, Mills or Cote? I could easily support either one and, on Nov. 6, I will vote for whichever D wins the primary on June 12. I would love to see Janet Mills elected Maine’s first female governor, but, despite the fact that she has won multiple elections to the House of Representatives and as district attorney, I fear she will too easily be seen as a career politician by an electorate unfriendly to incumbents and insiders.

Can Mills win? Maybe. But, coming from a prominent political family, she may also get weighed down by the more-of-the-same, business-as-usual baggage (not to mention the sexism) that sunk Hillary Clinton.

So that leaves Adam Cote.

As a combat veteran, an entrepreneur and attorney, a moderate Democrat and a candidate relatively fresh to the market, Cote seems to be just what the spin doctor ordered. Other than losing to Chellie Pingree in the 2008 Democratic primary in the 1st Congressional District, Cote looks like a winner. He should have the statewide appeal to independents and Never-Trump Republicans that a Democrat is going to need to take back the Blaine House for the people of Maine. I think it’s his race to lose.

And so, unless something changes before June 12, my primary vote will go Cote, Mills, Eves, Sweet, M. Dion, Russell, D. Dion. Maybe not D. Dion at all.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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