State of Maine: Senate race will be long slog

Record-breaking fundraising is proceeding apace in Maine’s upcoming U.S. Senate election. It is on course to be the most expensive political race ever run in Maine, but if your hair is set afire by how much the candidates are raising, just think of what it will be like when they start spending.

Incumbent Sen. Susan Collins and her chief rival, Maine Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, are already sitting on a cool $13 million in contributions. Collins is banking hers, having not even announced her candidacy yet. Gideon is not in that position.

By far the lesser known of the two, she is already up on TV, attempting to translate her Augusta bona fides into household name recognition. This is essential to her chances next November, but it means she burns through her money far sooner, leaving her with a potential funding gap when the presumed general election candidates finally go head to head.

In a normal race, the calculus about the value of early versus late expenditures would apply, but this is not a normal race. Collins is considered vulnerable by some because of two major issues. First, she voted for a Republican tax cut that provided tax relief mostly for those in upper-income brackets. Middle-income earners often pay more under the “cut.”

Then there was the Supreme Court appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, reviled by the left because of his questionable support of reproductive rights, allegations about improprieties with women and his alarming demeanor at his confirmation hearings. Collins supported him. The next watershed moment for Collins will be the likely impeachment hearings.

Together, these votes have made Sen. Collins a prime target for an upset. Smelling blood in the water, national Democrats are pouring money into the race. With a chance to unseat an incumbent Republican, not just the seat but overall control of the Senate is at stake.

We ain’t seen nothing yet. With national funders at her disposal, Gideon can count on remaining competitive until the final curtain. She has handicapped herself to some degree by pledging to reject money from corporate political committees, but the flow of money often takes curious twists and turns. The source is often far-removed from the outfall. One way or another, come autumn Gideon will not be handicapped by insufficient funds.

There are other candidates in the Democratic primary, but one astonishing data factoid is that between them, Collins and Gideon have raised 98 percent of the money in the race so far. That means the other candidates (Betsy Sweet, Bre Kidman, Ross LeJeunesse) will have a mere pittance with which to prosecute their campaigns.

If you are disheartened by the fact that, one year out from the election, the airwaves are already laden with political ads, just wait until after the June primaries. The Bangor Daily News aptly warned of the implications of a “mega-campaign descending on a small state.” One advertising firm anticipated ad spending in the Collins-Gideon race that would double any previous political ad campaigns in Maine history. Think about it. In the previous national election we were driven to distraction by political ads. This time around we can expect twice as many, in just the one race. Woe is us.

As for the rest of the field, those who have so far garnered a measly 2 percent of donor money, they are in a world of hurt. Sara Gideon, speaker’s gavel in hand, claimed the backing of the party from the beginning. The Democrats put all their eggs in the Gideon basket on day one and there is only the remotest of chances that any of her three primary competitors will catch up.

Ross LaJeunesse has some ability to self-fund, and so might be able to stay in the race longer. He also brings experience to the contest, which might make him worthy of a look. But in the end, the machine will point the dial to Sara Gideon and odds are it will be a Collins-Gideon race.

Despite the arrival of national politics in our heretofore low-key state, some things never change. Garnering headlines this week were an advisory to be on the lookout for feral pigs, a scourge of discarded adult diapers in North Yarmouth and a Walmart-wide hammer recall due to “injury hazard.”

We are entering the hardcore season in Maine. The tourists are gone, visiting relatives have been sent back, full of turkey, to whence they came, and those of us who remain are hunkering down, bracing for an early winter. It is time for Maine to be Maine, unencumbered by those who do not get us. Finally, it is Maine the way life should be.

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Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Retired nurse and former independent Maine State Senator.

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