The last time Republicans won control of both chambers of the Maine Legislature, the country was engaged in an unpopular foreign war, Washington was on the verge of a major scandal, Congress was meddling with social issues, and the vice-president was calling his critics unpatriotic. Also, the Red Sox didn’t make the playoffs.
In Maine, the Democratic governor was unpopular because of his stand on taxes, the Republican US senator was being criticized for ignoring her constituents’ concerns about the war, and there was a battle being waged over alternative power.
So, all the conditions required for a GOP victory seem to be in place.
Republicans last ran the Legislature in 1972, a year remembered for Vietnam (instead of Iraq), Watergate (instead of Mark Foley), the Equal Rights Amendment (instead of same-sex marriage), and Spiro Agnew’s “nattering nabobs of negativity” (instead of Dick Cheney’s daily diatribes). Closer to home, Governor Ken Curtis (instead of John Baldacci) struggled to regain credibility, US Senator Margaret Chase Smith (instead of Olympia Snowe) acted as if she were owed another six-year term, and environmentalists split on building the Dickey-Lincoln dam (instead of wind farms).
One more possible similarity: 1972 saw the release of Last Tango in Paris and the GOP’s last gasp in Augusta; among 2006’s top movies are Running Scared and The Departed, neither of which bodes well for the Dems.
With less than two weeks before election day, Republicans are poised to make gains in both the state Senate and House, although winning a majority in the latter will take more luck than the average historical analogy usually provides. But with enough adult supervision to avoid the last-minute screw-ups for which the GOP has such a well-deserved reputation, the elephant party could reverse the trend set by the last 16 elections.
Before I go any further, I should disclose what my longtime readers already know. For the better part of a decade, I’ve been predicting Republicans would take control of the state Senate. The nearest I came to being right was in 2000, when the two parties each elected 17 senators, and a single independent held the balance of power. Other than that aberration, voters have regularly ignored my prognostications.
So don’t place any bets on Republican hegemony with money you were saving to pay your property tax (hey, wasn’t that supposed to be lower by now?) or your state income tax (hey, wasn’t that supposed to be lower by now?) or your use tax on out-of-state purchases (hey, wasn’t that — wait a minute, what use tax on out-of-state purchases?), based on my track record. Unless you get odds.
Here’s why I’m once again prophesizing this will be the GOP’s year in the Senate. Republicans need to pick up just two seats to gain a majority in that 35-member body. They’ve got the opportunities. The Dems don’t.
Two examples: Democrat Joe Perry of Bangor used a stealth campaign to ambush an incumbent Republican senator two years ago, but this time he’s being taken seriously by the GOP’s Frank Farrington, a former Bangor mayor. And Democratic Senator Art Mayo of Bath deserted the Republican Party right after the last election, alienating supporters and handing GOP challenger Paula Benoit of Phippsburg an advantage in a district that’s never elected a Democrat.