Move over, Freddy Krueger. Here come the real scary monsters:
Libby Mitchell and Paul LePage.
As the summer progresses, expect to see Democrat Mitchell portrayed as a hardcore Stalinist, who — once she becomes governor — will order the State Police to take away your guns and your kids, and place the latter in re-education camps to be taught secular humanism, unilateral disarmament, the godless big-bang theory, and the benefits of government-run health care, after which they'll be put to work on collective farms and registered for same-sex marriages. She'll also nationalize the paper industry.
By the time autumn rolls around, it'll be common knowledge that if Republican LePage wins, he'll indulge his Tea-Party-inspired fascist tendencies by making all of the following illegal: abortion, homosexuality, global warming, religions that don't worship Jesus, religions that do worship Jesus but in weird ways, allowing students from Asia to attend Maine private schools in order to raise math scores, nude dancing, and Ethan Strimling. He'll also sell the Blaine House, making himself, once again, homeless.
Most of this stuff about Mitchell and LePage isn't true, but as previous campaigns have proved, it pays to start early to demonize the opposition. Democrats used that strategy effectively in 2006 in painting GOP gubernatorial nominee Chandler Woodcock as a tool of the religious right. Woodcock was slow to respond, in part because he wasn't sure why being a tool of the religious right was a bad thing. His hesitancy cost him any chance of winning the election.
Republicans used much the same approach in defeating the Democrats' tax-reform plan on the June ballot. Even before it passed the Legislature last year, the GOP was portraying the idea of reducing the income tax and broadening the sales tax as a socialist attack on working people. The Dems' belated response: This plan is too complicated for average folks to understand, but they should vote for it, anyway.
Scary trumps stupid every time.
Some alleged political experts are contending that energetic smear campaigns by Lefty Libby and Populist Paul will leave both major party nominees so damaged as to clear the way for independents Eliot Cutler, Shawn Moody, or Kevin Scott to pull off the kind of upsets Jim Longley managed in 1974 and Angus King engineered in 1994.
Longley ran against two bland middle-of-the-roaders, Democrat George Mitchell (before he was bitten by a radioactive spider that gave him super political powers) and Republican Jim Erwin (who was bitten by a radioactive spider, but it put him in a coma). That's not the case this year, with both party candidates demonstrating compelling styles. And to make it more difficult for the independents, LePage has already appropriated Longley's angry-outsider persona.
King also faced lackluster opposition in Republican Susan Collins (her radioactive spider had been backordered and didn't arrive until two years later) and Democrat Joe Brennan (who could put even radioactive spiders to sleep). King, who entered the race with significant TV experience and name recognition, had a folksy style that more than made up for his vague message.
None of the current non-party candidates can emulate that. Scott and Moody make LePage look polished, while Cutler is the anti-Angus with his antagonistic I-know-more-than-you-do-so-stop-asking-me-dumb-questions approach.
This election is the major party candidates' to lose. But, as the demonizers are prepared to point out, both are capable of doing just that.