Inevitability at the ballot box

More than a month left, with nowhere to go
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  October 3, 2012

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Five weeks. Five weeks of polls, attack ads, debates, and stump speeches. Five weeks to watch Democrat Cynthia Dill try desperately to translate her progressive achievements into votes; to hear Republican Charlie Summers pit himself against President Barack Obama (and, oh yeah, the other candidates) by touting his conservative credentials; to listen to Independent Angus King catalog his accomplishments as governor of this state in the 1990s and early 2000s and attempt to make them relevant today. Five weeks to decide who will replace Republican senator Olympia Snowe in the US Senate.

If you've already got campaign fatigue, we don't blame you. And unfortunately, we don't see much change on the horizon.

Maine voters have six options, of which three are considered major contenders (for more on the other three, see sidebar, "The Outsiders"). There's Dill, the Democrat who won her party's nomination in June, a 47-year-old mother of two from Cape Elizabeth, a civil trial lawyer and state senator. She's currently polling around 12 percent, according to a recent Critical Insights poll published last week in the Portland Press Herald.

The Republican nominee is Summers, a Navy reservist who has served as a public-affairs officer in Iraq and Afghanistan. Secretary of State Summers, 53, worked as Snowe's state director from 1995 to 2004 and as the New England Regional Administrator for the US Small Business Administration after that; he has three children and holds about 28 percent in the polls. (He did not respond to multiple emails and calls from the Phoenix regarding this article.)

And then there's Angus King, 68, former Independent governor of Maine (and former Democrat), who is currently leading in the polls at about 50 percent. The former MaineWatch host, who has worked on the business end of renewable energy development (including wind power) and has five children from two marriages, has not publicly declared which party he will caucus with if he does make it to Washington DC. In other words, he hasn't said whether he'll hang with Republicans or Democrats on Capitol Hill.

The race has not been particularly inspiring. One feels more inclined to grab a bowl of popcorn and observe the political machinations than to grab a ballot or campaign sign and do the work of democracy.

That said, this is a big race with big implications. That much is clear — several national publications have listed the Maine senate contest as one of the most important ones this year, given the precarious balance in the US Senate, where Democrats are hoping to maintain their fragile majority (the Senate currently comprises 51 Democrats, 2 Independents who caucus with the Dems, and 47 Republicans).

In addition to playing partisan chess, voters also have a reputation to uphold. For all her faults (and the Phoenix has outlined several over the years), Olympia Snowe was a widely respected here in Maine, and her successor has big shoes to fill. "For almost four decades, Olympia Snowe has served the people of the great state of Maine," the White House said in a February statement after Snowe announced her decision not to run for re-election. "From her unwavering support for our troops, to her efforts to reform Wall Street, to fighting for Maine's small businesses, Senator Snowe's career demonstrates how much can be accomplished when leaders from both parties come together to do the right thing for the American people."

Despite all this gravity, it's difficult to find much gravitas in this race.

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