Top 10 questions for Maine voters

The issues that define the primary campaign
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  May 28, 2008

"All politics is local: a refresher on Portland's three democratic primaries," by Deirdre Fulton
Since US Representative Tom Allen announced his intent to challenge Susan Collins for her US Senate seat, it’s been a free-for-all, with eight people seeking Allen's 1st Congressional District seat and three challengers (one Democrat, two independents) seeking to join the Allen-Collins fight. On June 10, voters will whittle down the fields. Here are the top 10 stories and storylines shaping Maine's primary season:

1. Why does Tom Allen refuse to debate Tom Ledue?
At the end of April, 12-year US House member Tom Allen declined to debate his inexperienced challenger for the Democratic nomination for US Senate, Tom Ledue, on MPBN television and WGAN radio. Allen campaign spokeswoman Carol Andrews said Allen had previous engagements, but Ledue’s camp spun it as fear. At, they wondered: “Why would Tom Allen decline a chance to speak out for his positions on the issues that are impacting Mainers? Has he decided that his middle-class rallying cry is as non-inspiring to him as it is to the rest of Maine?”

In reality, this strategy was in keeping with Allen’s m.o. all along — pretend Ledue (a first-time candidate from Springvale) doesn’t exist, and hope he’ll go away. Indeed, there went Ledue’s best chance at publicly highlighting the differences between the candidates — including the fact that Ledue would have voted to impeach George Bush, while Allen would not. Bowdoin political-science professor Christian Potholm said on MPBN last week that he thought avoiding debate was a bad strategy that made Allen look arrogant — and in an election with lots of Dems showing up at the polls (to vote for Allen's replacement in the House), people who are upset at him will certainly have a chance to register their disapproval.

2. Can Pingree be bought?
The Washington DC-based non-profit Common Cause counts campaign-finance reform as one of its top priorities. “Our current focus is on fundamentally changing the way America pays for elections, from top to bottom, by adopting full public financing of campaigns,” the organization’s Web site says. First Congressional District candidate Chellie Pingree once served as president and CEO of Common Cause, and on her campaign Web site, she calls “reducing the role of money in politics ... a critically important reform.”

Yet Pingree is the richest candidate in the race to replace Tom Allen; she’s raised more than $1 million, more than double what any of her opponents has collected. Of course, no one’s saying that if you support campaign-finance reform, you have to be cash poor. But at least one of Pingree’s Democratic opponents — who’s been nipping at her heels for the duration of the race — thinks there’s a fundraising paradox.

“I’m just surprised and disappointed that Ms. Pingree had an opportunity to lead by putting her past words into action, and she chose instead to offer more of the same at a time when this country drastically needs a change in direction,” said Ethan Strimling in a widely quoted press release accusing Pingree of taking special-interest money. See, Pingree has accepted donations from wealthy hedge-fund managers (some of whom have homes in Maine) — the same people who trade huge bundled amounts of money in unregulated, usually offshore accounts, and who sometimes end up tangled in fraud and corruption charges. Strimling says this is fishy; Pingree claims her backers are fully familiar with her progressive ideology (which includes cracking down on hedge-fund loopholes), that her opponents are just jealous of her sizeable coffers, and that no one can buy her vote.

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