Six months from the June primaries, a look at the candidate list for one of Maine’s two U.S. Senate seats is something of a surprise. There are seven names in the race, and none of them is Collins. Probably the best-known contestant now is Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, followed by former Augusta advocate Betsy Sweet. The five others? Not so much.
What is up with candidates who enter big races against long odds? It is so hard to run for a statewide office. Are they making a statement? Trying to build name recognition for a subsequent endeavor? Do they have an ax to grind? Or are they simply amusing themselves?
The system is rigged in favor of familiar faces and party candidates. Candidates who get traction are those who have held prior office, have a longstanding network in political circles or have some other claim on the public attention.
At the local level, at least in Maine, it is quite possible that someone brand new to politics can win a legislative seat. That is the case for most of our current Hancock County delegation. Step up to state level and it is a different story. Newbies do not often fare well in contests for governor or Congress.
If a candidate can somehow catch the eye of one of the two major political parties, that’s a different story. If the party machinery and resources are put behind a novice, the unknown can quickly become a household name. Other than that, you’re pooched.
Some long-shot candidates have a passion to serve, a set of issues to promote and faith in the American political dream that anyone can be elected. Good for them for stepping up. But even the “outsider” candidate needs some kind of history that provides a launching pad.
Jon Treacy, a retired military officer who briefly entered the U.S. Senate race, was a sincere fellow with a desire to serve in a new capacity. He presented himself well and spoke with quiet sincerity. Then he found out how much money it takes to be competitive, and in a few short months he was gone. Green Independent candidate Lisa Savage is likely to meet a similar fate.
Bre Kidman was the first Democrat to file in the race. Kidman is a criminal defense attorney and identifies as non-binary. The self-described “mermaid” said in an interview that is “an artistic identity, not a serious identity.” Kidman is running as a Democrat, but has identified “philosophical differences” with the party. “It’s a balance between how much do you want the resources this party can give you and how much do you want to take a stand for what you believe in?”
Kidman, who raised less than half what Treacy did in the same period of time but soldiers on, thought it possible to “be competitive in the primary and the general” but acknowledged “party support would make it easier.” The bad news for Kidman is that, having weighed that choice and decided to align with the Democratic Party, the chances of getting any of those party resources are slim to none.
Some long-shots become perennial candidates, running repeatedly because they like having a microphone and an audience. They are footnotes to most elections, though Vermin Supreme, the gentleman who wears a boot on his head, has made a career of it, running for a variety of offices for years, maybe decades.
Tiffany Bond and Danielle VanHelsing are both in the Senate race as independents. Both ran for the 2nd Congressional District seat in 2018; VanHelsing withdrew before the general election. In politics, even a lost cause is expensive and all-consuming. What is it that lures a candidate back after a previous effort ends in disaster?
Bond has a way of connecting with an audience, advocating for “getting the ick out of politicking,” but she received less than 6 percent of the vote. How is it that she is moved to run again in an even bigger contest?
Enter Ross LaJeunesse. According to his website, the man has chops. He worked for Sens. George Mitchell and Ted Kennedy, and for a California governor. He is a graduate of Harvard Law. He was head of international relations for Google. He is late to the party, only entering the race a few weeks back, but with some personal resources at his disposal he may be able to stay in long enough to attract attention. He is already up on TV.
Republicans are not so keen on an open door policy for the Senate primary. A brief flirtation with a primary challenge was quickly extinguished by establishment Republicans, leaving the field to Collins, who has not yet entered the race.