Friends from other planets

Politics + Other Mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  March 20, 2014

According to a group called the Mutual UFO Network (motto: Sorta Like The Syfy Channel, Only Less Credible), Maine has more sightings of unidentified flying objects than any states except Washington (where marijuana is legal), Montana (where common loons and uncommon nuts both thrive), and Vermont (home of something called “snow golf,” which combines the worst aspects of two terrible ideas: winter and golf).

Unlike residents of those states, Mainers who’ve spotted flying saucers are not necessarily stoned or weird. Many are normal people, who really did see something strange come out of the sky. Namely:

Reporters from the national news media.

I myself have had contact with these alien life forms. One autumn afternoon in 2002, I was busily observing the US Senate race between incumbent Republican Susan Collins and Democratic challenger Chellie Pingree by taking a nap on the couch. Suddenly I was interrupted by an unearthly ringing. It turned out to be the telephone.

The caller was a journalist from a liberal magazine. He’d landed in Maine and set out to do a story on how Pingree had a good chance of upsetting Collins.

“Why on earth – if you’ll pardon the expression – do you think that?” I asked.

“I’ve seen the grassroots support for her candidacy,” he said. “It’s all over the state.”

“Really?” I said. “Where in Maine have you been?”

“Portland,” he said. “And North Haven.”

Now I understood what planet he was coming from. North Haven is where Pingree lived.

I tried to explain that Portland’s political makeup isn’t typical of the rest of Maine. I noted that in the 2nd Congressional District, the Democrat’s campaign was almost nonexistent. I mentioned how Collins remained popular in rural parts of the state.

I thought the visitor would be grateful for these insights, but that wasn’t the case. “No one else is telling me that,” he said. “I don’t think you have a good perspective.”

He then vanished back through whatever space warp brought him here and wrote a story in which he claimed Pingree “has Collins looking over her shoulder” and that “a gust of Maine populism, merging with the corporate accountability zeitgeist, could catch Chellie’s sails and carry her to Washington.”

A month later, Collins beat Pingree by 19 percentage points. The Democrat won in Portland and North Haven, but almost nowhere else.

I mention this not to demonstrate how locked into the state’s political pulse I am (if I were, Ethan Strimling would be a congressman, and Mike Michaud would be driving a forklift). I bring it up because a dozen years after that alien invasion, it’s happening again. The night skies over Maine are alight with glowing objects bringing in big-shot reporters, this time to inform earthlings that Democrat Shenna Bellows has a real chance of knocking off Collins.

Set your phasers to stun.

“This year’s [Democratic Party] caucuses saw record turnout,” MSNBC reported, “with party members gathering in town halls and school gyms for a chance to meet Bellows and other members of the ticket.”

Record turnout? Maybe in an alternate dimension. In this one, the showing was about average for an off-year election, which is far below attendance in presidential years.

In arriving at her assessment that Bellows “makes waves,” the reporter seems to have visited Portland and Brunswick. No mention of anyplace north of Augusta, where the candidate hasn’t caused a ripple.

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