Orthodox caveman

Maine’s GOP is suffering from a muddle in the middle
By AL DIAMON  |  October 14, 2009

Wanted: a right-wing wacko to run for governor of Maine. No experience necessary, but must hate abortion, gays, immigrants, welfare recipients, endangered species, and other people’s extra-marital affairs (also his own, unless God told him it was OK). Advocacy for a return to the gold standard and survivalist tendencies are pluses, as is ownership of a signed, bootleg copy of Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue.

Please register immediately for the 2010 Republican primary.

Maine’s GOP is suffering from a muddle in the middle. All the gubernatorial candidates with even the remotest chance of capturing the nomination (a condition that excludes J. Martin Vachon) are trying to appeal to the party’s mainstream by preaching nearly identical platforms calling for tax cuts, regulatory reform, and corporate coddling. None has dared say much about social issues such as same-sex marriage, women’s reproductive rights, displaying Christmas paraphernalia on public property, and denying food stamps to heathens.

What’s needed to shake these mushy moderates loose from muckling onto the median is a candidate who’s an old-fashioned, arch-conservative nut.

There was a rumor floating around some political Web sites that Michael Heath, the recently resigned executive director of the Maine Family Policy Council, was planning a bid for the Blaine House. Unfortunately, this appears to have been based on wishful thinking on the part of cyber-Cro-Magnons, rather than any such indication from Heath. Nevertheless, the mere suggestion of a Heath candidacy stirred passions among the Republican right not seen since the last bonfire to burn Harry Potter books.

There’s a zeitgeist here that this field of gubernatorial hopefuls doesn’t seem able to tap. And no wonder. These guys couldn’t tap a beer keg with a jackhammer.

The nearest thing the GOP has to a social conservative is Waterville Mayor Paul LePage. LePage’s blunt style and right-of-center populist message could resonate with disaffected Republican cave dwellers. It might even hit home with more moderate voters, as it has in his nominally Democratic hometown. But LePage has never shown any sign of being a savvy political organizer (in spite of his success, the Waterville GOP hasn’t prospered), and he has no money. If LePage says something in the forest, but it doesn’t get on TV, did he make a sound?

Bruce Poliquin has plenty of cash, mostly his own, but the Georgetown developer lacks another essential component of a political campaign: an actual message. Other than vague statements about fiscal restraint, Poliquin hasn’t taken a single stand on anything worth mentioning. He’s never run for elected office, and his dealings with municipal officials on some of his stalled projects call into question his ability to negotiate. He does say he’s “dead serious” a lot. Half right.

Matt Jacobson of Portland is president of Maine & Co., which would be a good name for a vaudeville act. Too bad it’s actually some kind of economic-development thingy, although I must have missed the economics it developed. Jacobson can’t answer a question without mentioning that he’d create jobs, but he has yet to explain how. Since the publicity generated by the announcement of his candidacy, he’s been so invisible that he barely escapes being lumped in with Vachon.

Les Otten of Greenwood is famous for . . . well, maybe famous is the wrong word. Otten built a national ski empire out of nothing and, through over-expansion, returned it to the same. Now, he sells furnaces that burn wood pellets, which beats burning investors. He’s been accused of plagiarizing his campaign logo from Barack Obama’s. Hard to say whether that was the result of incompetence or stupidity. Makes liberal-sounding noises, but that could just be gas. Although, maybe he sells a furnace for that, too.

State Senator Peter Mills of Cornville has taken clear stands. He voted for tax reform. He voted for same-sex marriage. He has detailed plans to save the state from economic disaster without damaging the social-service infrastructure. That should make him the frontrunner . . . in the Democratic primary. I’m sure he has some positions Republicans would like, too, although he doesn’t often mention them. Mills lost the 2006 primary to a right-winger. Without one of them in the race this year, he has the opportunity to lose to somebody with a different ideological slant.

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