The last two Democrats to run for statewide office in Maine got 32 percent of the vote — combined. In other words, if you somehow — possibly employing scientific procedures that are illegal in 79 countries and residential areas of Lewiston — merged Libby Mitchell (2010 gubernatorial nominee, 19 percent) and Cynthia Dill (2012 candidate for US Senate, 13 percent) into one terrifying entity, that creature would barely squeak by Republican Charlie Summers (2012 Senate runner-up, 31 percent).
And yet — with no ability to win big races, with no leadership, and with no agenda other than opposing anything GOP Governor Paul LePage does — the Democratic Party is back in control.
After a two-year hiatus, it'll once again enjoy a solid majority in the state House of Representatives and a comfortable edge in the Maine Senate. It also held onto both congressional seats by a landslide margin (in the liberal 1st District) and a near-landslide one (in the allegedly conservative 2nd District). And its membership was instrumental in electing independent Angus King to replace retiring GOP US Senator Olympia Snowe, which means that instead of putting up with somebody who agreed with it occasionally, it'll be able to rely on that vote most of the time.
Here's a party whose only viable candidate for either the governorship or the Senate in 2014 is US Representative Chellie Pingree, who is constitutionally prohibited from running for both offices simultaneously. She's also about as popular north of Augusta as previous Democrats from the 1st District such as Tom Allen (2008 US Senate loser with 38 percent of the vote) or Tom Andrews (1994 Senate also-ran at 36 percent).
Even so, in the right race, Pingree could be formidable.
Let's define "right." It's got to be one-on-one. No Eliot Cutler-like independents. No pesty Greens. If Andrew Ian Dodge wants to run, that's OK, because his entertainment value outweighs his undetectable effect on the outcome.
What's needed is a face off between Pingree and the anti-Pingree. Ultra-liberal takes on extreme conservative. Refined politician confronts barbarous mutant. Rapier against bludgeon. I'm talking about:
Pingree versus LePage.
That would be fun to watch. No one could complain there'd be no difference between the candidates. None of that griping about fuzzy positions. No hesitation on either side about high spending or low blows.
For that to happen, a few pieces would have to fall into place. Pingree has to ask her pal, Senator-elect King, to approach his pal, governor-in-waiting Cutler (who got 37 percent of the vote in 2010), to convince him not to launch another non-party bid for the Blaine House. Maybe Pingree could divert his ambition by promising to support him for state treasurer or some other post where being sort of unlikable does no real damage.
In addition, the Democrats would have to clear the field of others who've deluded themselves into believing they're not the reincarnation of Mitchell or Dill.
Such as Dill, herself, who promised in her concession speech to remain politically active. Translation: I did so well running for Senate that I'll be a shoo-in for governor.
Solution: During a recent visit to Vermont, I noticed way more "Dill for Senate" signs along the road than I ever saw in Maine. They belonged to a guy running for the Legislature, but since he lost, I'm sure he'd be happy to let Cynthia buy them cheap if she accepts the hopeless task of taking on Republican US Senator Susan Collins in 2014.