Post-Primary Potpourri: The role of Olympia Snowe in this fall’s campaign
By Paul H. Mills
It is a common perception that to win a Republican primary in Maine one must position a candidate to capture the imagination of ideological conservatives. The perceived need to appeal to right-leaning primary voters was illustrated in the final debate of the six GOP candidates. Five of them went to some lengths to emphasize how their positions on such issues as Obamacare, TARP and confirmation of two Supreme Court nominees would have been different than votes cast by moderate Senator Olympia Snowe.
The only candidate who refrained from staking out such a position was the ultimate victor in the race, Charlie Summers. Summers, who also made mention of his background as a former state field director for Snowe, did not take the bait and held off attempting to set himself apart from Snowe’s voting record. Summers was not simply demonstrating fidelity to his political resumé as a Snowe staffer. He was also at the same time positioning himself to stake out a bona fide claim to be Snowe’s heir apparent for purposes of a potential general election campaign.
After all, despite some misgivings by many GOP activists, most notably the Ron Paul/Tea Party elements who seized control of the state convention last month, Snowe still commands the allegiance of Maine’s rank and file voters. It is a reason why, for example, Angus King, has already emphasized the similarity of his approach to that to the departing senior senator.
Now that Summers has emerged triumphant from the GOP field, King will need to confront a few challenges in trying to stake out this ground as his exclusive turf. It is not, by the way, a ground that is likely to be claimed by the Democratic nominee, Cynthia Dill, who has so far positioned herself to the left of President Obama, thus rendering rather unlikely that she would come very close to perambulating the state in Snowe’s ideological footsteps.
Summers stays on as Secretary of State
Some Democratic leaders might anticipate calling into question the continued role of the Republican nominee Charlie Summers in the Secretary of State’s position. After all, the office does oversee the state’s elections and Summers himself will be at the head of the ballot. There is, however, substantial precedent from the pages of Maine’s political book for high ranking officials in the Secretary of State’s office to concurrently seek public office.
Republican Lewis Barrows held down the position while running for and winning election as governor in 1936.
Democrat Kenneth Curtis did the same in 1966.
Democrat Bill Diamond, another Secretary of State, sought the governorship in the 1986 Democratic primary.
Along the way, Republican Denny Shute ran for and was elected to the State Senate in 1970 at the same time he was Deputy Secretary of State and head of the elections division. The integrity of none of these was ever seriously called into question in the process, even though it might be raising partisan eyebrows today.
It’s a six-way race
Though in the aftermath of this past week’s primary, few people overlooked the gorilla in the living room specter of Angus King, hardly a peep was heard about three other independent candidates who also managed to corral 4,000 signatures to get their names on this November’s ballot for the US Senate.
They are: Tea Party activist Andrew Ian Dodge of Harpswell, along with Yarmouth’s Steve Woods and Brunswick's Danny Dalton. Altogether the four independents along with the Democratic and Republican standard bearers will make up the largest general election field of U.S. Senate candidates in Maine history. This eclipses the previous record set in 1978 when five candidates appeared on the Senate ballot. That was the contest in which Bangor Republican William Cohen unseated Democratic incumbent William Hathaway.
Money doesn’t matter and moderation is not moribund
Regardless of what political stripe with what one might paint one’s self, a refreshing outcome of last week’s primary is that in the two leading contested races the victors were far down the totem pole in fund raising. On the Democratic side, for example, the spending by Cynthia Dill, of a meager sum of less than $50,000, was some 40 percent of that of either of her two main opponents, Matt Dunlap and John Hinck.
Likewise, on the Republican side, Charlie Summers finished a distant fourth in fund raising in his primary, but emerged comfortably triumphant when the votes were counted.
Fund raising reports on the First District, where Patrick Calder has battled GOP floor leader Jonathan Courtney to a near draw, show that Calder raised a mere $5,000 compared to some $20,000 raised by Courtney. The four-to-one spending deficit clearly did not seem to translate into a comparable voting recession for the 29-year-old charismatic, Portland-based candidate. (Calder by the way clearly had a more moderate position than Courtney did on some issues, Calder for example, being pro-choice and Courtney being pro-life. As with the Summers' nomination, Calder’s near win shows that moderation in Republican primaries is not moribund.)
Moreover, to the Paul McCartney lyric “money can’t buy me love,” one might also add that it cannot necessarily purchase the affection of voters in last week’s primary election.
Paul H. Mills is a Farmington attorney well known for his analyses and historical understanding of public affairs in Maine. He can be reached by e-mail: email@example.com