Because Governor John Baldacci’s poll numbers have been in the depths for over a year, three substantial Republicans—David Emery, Peter Mills, and Chandler Woodcock— are competing to take him on. The GOP primary election is June 13. Here’s the tip sheet.
Republican pollster, campaign guru, and Bowdoin government professor Chris Potholm says categorically that Republicans in Maine cannot win a gubernatorial or congressional election, general or primary, if they are not—or are not “perceived as”—moderates. There are only a couple of exceptions in the past 40 years, he claims.
So strong are moderate candidates here, Potholm says, that “within the margin of error,” centrist Republican US senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins do as well in opinion polls among Democrats as among Republicans.
Potholm’s theory “sounds completely right to me,” says the head of Colby’s government department, Joseph Reisert, who also is a Republican. “Look at the voting patterns. There’s a powerful pull to the center.”
“It’s the moderates who have prevailed,” agreed senator Snowe, who was interviewed at the early-May Republican State Convention, although “it depends on the candidates. It depends on how someone positions themselves on the issues.” But she said pragmatism triumphs over ideology in Maine.
If Woodcock (at right), the Farmington state senator who has positioned himself as a conservative, nevertheless should win the primary, Reisert says, “I suspect he would have a harder go of it in the general election.” Woodcock was the only candidate at the convention who pushed opposition to gay rights. “I’m opposed to special rights, and I believe that a marriage is between one man and one woman,” he said in his speech.
Woodcock is pro-life on abortion, while Mills is pro-choice and Emery is sort of pro-choice and pro-life. Mills supported gay rights in the Legislature, while Emery says he would not support revisiting gay rights now that citizens have approved those rights in a referendum.
So, of these candidates, guess who’s the moderate? Although Emery, the former 1st District congressman from coastal St. George, is hardly a fire-breathing right-winger, most political observers would agree that state senator Mills of Cornville (near Skowhegan) is most squarely in the center of Maine politics. Politically, he looks like Olympia Snowe in drag (he, too, is rail thin).
In his convention speech, he declaimed in red-meat GOP fashion against out-of-control Democratic fiscal policies—and he led the people’s veto petition effort last year that forced Baldacci and Democratic legislators to abandon a $450-million borrowing plan to cover the state’s current expenses—but here’s a man who has long criticized the huge corporate tax breaks known as BETR (the Business Equipment Tax Reimbursement program).
Mills (at right) also is critical of the initiated bill called the taxpayers’ bill of rights (TABOR), which would super-strictly cap spending and taxes if it is successful in a statewide vote in November. Both Woodcock and Emery support it.
THE ESTABLISHMENT CANDIDATE
Republicans have a history of anointing candidates rather than enduring a vigorous primary battle. That is not the case this year, but Mills’s convention video was noteworthy because, unlike Woodcock’s and Emery’s—they presented their biographies—it featured endorsements by legislative figures.