I asked some Republicans what they knew about Patrick Calder, the guy who came within 300 votes of being the GOP's 1st Congressional District nominee and is now being hailed as one of the party's rising political stars.
"I think I met him once," said a well-connected party hack. "I don't know a thing about him, except he seemed nice enough."
"I voted for him because . . . well, mostly because he didn't have a lot of baggage," said a Portland voter. "At least, I don't think he does. He doesn't, does he?"
"I've heard of him," said a Tea Party activist from the midcoast. "Played defense for the Boston Bruins a couple of years ago. Or was he a goalie?"
It's possible I made that last one up.
The point is that a whole bunch of people — GOP moderates, disgruntled Ron Paul supporters, little old ladies who still wear white gloves when they visit each other for afternoon tea — voted for Calder in the June 12 primary, even though the Republican Party had another candidate on the ballot who appeared to have far more impressive qualifications for higher office. I'm referring to . . . uh . . . er . . . his name will come to me in a moment. It's right on the tip of my tongue.
No, that's not it. Former Congressman Emery is now gainfully employed as a budget-crunching bureaucrat in the administration of Governor Paul LePage.
Anyway, back to Calder, who raised almost no money (his poverty-stricken campaign was mostly self-financed), showed little sign of having a grassroots strategy (he showed up for debates and in places where there were crowds — sometimes), and was roundly ignored by the news media (except for a couple of perfunctory profiles that told us little more about him than that he's 29 years old, the first mate on a cruise ship in Hawaii, and displays no obvious tendency to say stupid things in public). Calder had run for the Maine House of Representatives a couple of years ago in a solidly Democratic district in Portland, where he lost by a two-to-one margin.
In both of his campaigns, Calder espoused the standard GOP refrains of fiscal conservatism and government restraint, although he did so in a far more articulate manner than his most recent opponent, whatshisface.
Jim Longley Jr.?
Nope, I'm pretty sure the fumble-mouthed one-term representative (a lot of folks thought they were voting for his father, the former independent governor) is off somewhere making big bucks being a lobbyist.
So just how did Calder come within a fraction of a percentage point of knocking off a better-known, better-financed, more experienced competitor? Sheer dumb luck certainly played a role. It never hurts to be the fresh-faced alternative in a year when the electorate is holding alternatives in kind regard. The debates did him no harm. He looked as if he knew and cared about the issues. His opponent (Ted O'Meara? Phil Harriman? Plato Truman?) looked like he was just going through the motions while waiting for his pre-ordained victory to be officially certified.