It's been more than a week since the June 8 primary election, which saw Republican PAUL LEPAGE (Waterville mayor and Marden's exec) beat a large field of better-financed competitors, and LIBBY MITCHELL (state senate president) pull out ahead of the Democratic pack, poised to become Maine's first-ever female governor. The two will face off against independents ELIOT CUTLER, SHAWN MOODY, and KEVIN SCOTT in November, all hoping to win the keys to the Blaine House.
Relatively high turnout (particularly on the Republican side) was credited to the multitude of choices and public awareness around the TAX-REFORM BALLOT QUESTION, which passed to repeal a state bill that would have cut the state income tax and expanded or increased the sales tax and meals and lodging tax.
While it's true that "people don't really start thinking about this stuff until September," as Maine League of Young Voters state director Will Everitt points out about the gap between the primary and general election, there are a few questions to think about as the statewide race takes shape:
• WILL REPUBLICANS UNITE BEHIND LEPAGE? In the days after the primary, there was considerably more strife on the right than on the left, as supporters of Les Otten, Steve Abbott, and other Republican losers surveyed their options. Some threatened to throw their support behind one of the independent candidates. Or, as Andrew Ian Dodge, state coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, puts it: "People may vote LePage in November but they ain't going to do nothing to help" between now and then. This could hurt — LePage's success depends on grassroots momentum and on keeping conservative support while hoping that Cutler and Mitchell split the center-left voters.
• Everitt wonders why the Democratic candidates ran the primary like it was a general election. "It seemed to me that all four of the Democrats were fighting over the middle," he says. "That just didn't INSPIRE THE PROGRESSIVE COMMUNITY." If LePage has garnered the enthusiasm of the state's far-right voters, do Maine's die-hard lefties feel similarly inspired by Mitchell? Pundits have said the two party candidates are polarizing, and some Republicans have called Mitchell "Maine's Nancy Pelosi," but liberals don't necessarily agree with that characterization. "She's a moderate Democrat who has tended to be pretty solid on union and working-class Democrat issues," Everitt says.
• And certainly she'll want to perpetuate that image, as she feels the SPOILER SQUEEZE FROM CUTLER, a lawyer and ex-White House official (under Jimmy Carter). Here's what Reid Scher, chair of the Cumberland County Democrats, wrote on his group's Web site about Cutler the day after the election: "There's also a possibly greater threat to Libby, the independent candidate Eliot Cutler. We saw Peter Mills begin the narrative last night that many will hope to carry into November, and that is that Libby is as extreme on the left as LePage is on the right, leaving only the independent choice in the middle. We need to be very clear and work hard to dispel the notion that there's anything radical about Libby Mitchell."
There were few surprises in the local races last week. Democrat JILL BARKLEY beat Mohammed Dini in District 119; now, it's her race to lose against Kris Eckhardt, a supposed "place-holder" Green Party candidate, and Ben Chipman, a longtime Green activist who will run as an independent. Green ANNA TREVORROW beat Charles Bragdon in District 120 and will now attempt to unseat Democratic incumbent Diane Russell; there's Green place-holder discord in that district as well, with Bragdon claiming the Green party asked him to run and then "railroaded me into running against" Trevorrow. KEN CAPRON beat Badr Sharif in District 116.
While the theme of the day might have been conservative surprises, the PASSAGE OF FOUR BONDS swung the other way entirely. Each of the bond questions contained money for sustainable development, transportation, or energy programs, including rail development and deep-water offshore wind-energy research.