The name of the game

 Politics + Other Mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  October 24, 2013

In politics, a candidate’s name counts for a lot. This explains why folks called Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln got their likenesses carved on Mount Rushmore, while the likes of Hitler, Stalin, and Time Warner Cable didn’t.

There are exceptions to this rule, such as a US senator from Arizona named Flake and US House members who go by Bordallo, Fattah, and Fudge, not to mention Charles “Bucky” Dent. But most successful pols have names that evoke positive images.

This is particularly true for candidates whose families have established noted political traditions, such as the Rockefellers, the Roosevelts, and the Kings (Martin Luther, not Angus). The relatives who arrive later often trade on the goodwill created by their predecessors. Here in Maine, Jim Longley Jr. once managed to slip into Congress on a platform consisting almost entirely of confusing elderly voters into believing they were voting for his father, a former independent governor who was ineligible for the ballot due to being dead.

We’re currently seeing a similar effect in the state’s 2nd Congressional District, where early polls show Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci holding a slight lead in the Democratic primary to choose a successor to US Representative Mike Michaud. Baldacci is the brother of former (and aren’t we glad of that) governor John Baldacci, who once represented the area in the US House. Joe Baldacci is little known outside his hometown, but a lot of people have trouble remembering first names (I got an email last week referring to the ex-governor as “Jack Baldacci”), so we can assume Joe’s last name is worth a few points in the polls, at least among Dems with short-term memory loss or delusional tendencies.

Once the public discovers that Joe doesn’t quite measure up to John (that may be the most insulting thing I’ve ever written about anybody), I expect voter preferences in the donkey party to shift toward state Senator Emily Cain of Orono. Cain also has a name advantage. She was recently endorsed by EMILY’s List, a political action committee that limits its support to candidates named Emily.

Well, not exactly. They also have to be pro-choice and Democrats. And they don’t have to be named Emily, although that certainly doesn’t hurt. But mostly, EMILY’s List devotes its considerable resources to candidates who look like winners — even if they share a last name with a biblical bad guy.

Another primary contender is state Senator Troy Jackson of Allagash (the town, not the brewery), whose legendary surname still carries considerable weight with Democrats and whose first name resonates with history buffs who think the Greeks only won the Trojan War by using a dirty trick. There’s also political newcomer Alden Smith of Sangerville, but it’s tough to figure how having a similar name to the guy who lost the 1928 presidential race in a landslide to Herbert Hoover is going to instill confidence among the party faithful.

On the Republican side, it’s all about name recognition, and two candidates have the early advantage. Unfortunately for them, they’re mostly recognized as losers.
Bruce Poliquin rarely mentions he got blown away in races for governor and the US Senate, in spite of spending gobs of his own money, preferring instead to refer to himself as a former state treasurer. Considering that not one person in 10 knows who the current treasurer is (Whitey Bulger, I think), that seems like an ineffective strategy. Also, Poliquin doesn’t live in the 2nd District, so a lot of its residents have taken to calling him “Tourist Boy.”

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