State of Maine: Nothing beats the personal touch during campaign season 



Election season has begun, and if that had escaped your notice, just ask the person who delivers your mail. If you live in Hancock County, that mail sack is full of big, glossy postcards promoting the local candidates for the Maine Senate. That would be Democrat Nicole Grohoski and Republican Brian Langley.  

One of them will fill the seat vacated by Sen. Louie Luchini from June until November, when they will go up against each other again for a full, two-year seat. The winner of the first contest will presumably have an edge in the second. 

If it were up to the two candidates, it would be a civil election campaign focused on their concepts of the role of government and their ideas for future policy initiatives. If the parties, both local and national, get involved, we shall see. 

Another Maine state senator, Democrat Chloe Maxmin, has recently published a book about her own election experiences. Her party is not amused. Sen. Maxmin, elected to the House of Representatives in 2018, was the youngest legislator in the 129th Legislature. In 2020, she was the youngest woman ever elected to the Maine Senate. 

Perhaps more significant than her age is the mountain she climbed to get there. She was the first Democrat ever elected to House District 88. After just the one term in the House, she ran for the Senate, defeating the well-liked, long-serving incumbent, Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow. Flipping a Senate seat against a formidable opponent was a feat, and a cause for rejoicing among Democrats. 

Then came Maxmin’s book, “Dirt Road Revival,” co-written by her former campaign manager Canyon Woodward. Democrats, potentially facing a rocky road in this year’s mid-term elections, were not pleased with Maxmin’s notion that the party has “abandoned” or “ignored” rural America in general and Republican voters in particular. 

In a scornful opinion piece, Julia Brown, former executive director of the Maine Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, pushed back. Maxmin’s thesis was a “trope.” It was “hardly groundbreaking.” Maybe it’s applicable in some places, says Brown, but not in Maine. Confessing to being “offended by claims that Senate Democrats do not talk with Republicans,” Brown’s reaction is full of heat. Does that come from having “campaigned hard for (Maxmin)” in 2020, only to be confronted with heresy by the former candidate? 

Brown cites examples of Democrats who won conservative districts, flipping Republican seats in the process. Picking up seats “in a red wave year.” “Historic majorities” in 2018 and 2020. Those wins, she maintains, were not the work of “some messiah with an ‘only-I-can-fix-it’ attitude.” Ouch. Can we go lower? Sure! “While it’s great that Maxmin was able to forego having a traditional job, the truth is few Mainers will ever have the luxury she has to campaign full time for a role that pays less than $15,000 a year.”  

“Dirt Road Revival” has not yet reached every dirt road in Maine, but it has caught the attention of the media. Maxmin has appeared in national interviews and the book has been discussed in the likes of The New Yorker and The New York Times. She raises a worthwhile subject, so what makes the party in her home state so resistant to acknowledging it? 

Maine legislative districts are not all that large. In a House district (about 8,800 people) it is certainly possible to meet every voter; a Senate district is larger (about 39,000 people) but still manageable when it comes to getting to know the voters. Independents are accustomed to reaching out to everyone, regardless of party. They simply go out to the public to introduce themselves to anyone who will listen. 

As the number of unenrolled voters continues to grow, it becomes harder for the parties to know where to focus their energies and resources. Going door to door in Maine will certainly expose a candidate to voters in all parties. Candidates will undoubtedly encounter and converse with members of all parties, but the pressure of time means party strategy will attempt to get value out of every moment on the campaign trail. 

The parties spend a great deal of time and money on making sure candidates know where to focus. Maxmin’s point may be no more than urging candidates to get out and meet people, all people, everywhere, and if you have something worth listening to, voters will listen. Yes, there are some voters who will never cross a party line, but many more might be open to persuasion.  

Julia Brown suggests Democratic candidates are already doing that, but party campaign material and the experience of many candidates would indicate otherwise. Maybe what candidates should abandon is party dogma about how and where to campaign and just take voters face to face, one at a time. 

 

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County. 

 

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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