Campaign grind separates the contenders from the pretenders



The headcount for the 2018 gubernatorial election stands at 24, down from a high of 29. Five candidates have withdrawn from the race. Both Libertarians and one of two Green Independent candidates have left the field, as have one Democrat and one Republican.

Running for governor is a daunting proposition. For those who have never before been a candidate for elected office, it is hard to understand just how grueling a campaign is. The logistics are staggering, the cost is alarming and the demands on one’s time and energy exhausting.

It is public exposure in a way that few of us ever experience it, and it is not just the candidates who are under the microscope. Their spouses, kids and businesses are all grist for the mill. There is no down time and there is no anonymity. Dash to the store in sweatpants and a torn T-shirt and your photo will be on Instagram. Lose your grip, run your lip, and your mini-fit will be all over Facebook.

Having political experience is extremely helpful. Having run for the Legislature, especially successfully, gives one an idea of the basics, and in particular prepares one for the realities of campaigning, even though on a much smaller scale. Rain or shine, energetic or depleted, excited or terrified, a candidate must be out there every day, fighting the good fight.

A candidate must be seriously motivated to jump in. There have been candidates, usually those who recognize that they are underdogs, who have said they are in it to get out a “message.” To them we say, how about a letter to the editor? Because if you are a political novice, especially in a crowded field, running for statewide office is no better than a paper airplane for getting a message out.

Fair or not, long-shot candidates can have trouble getting invited to a debate stage, let alone holding their own when they get there. Whatever message they may have is quickly drowned out by candidates who are more politically adept. Only if their message borders on the lunatic will they get attention, and then not in a good way.

Besides, if a candidate makes it known that messaging is the goal, why bother to consider him or her a serious contender? Candidates who mean business are in it to win it, not to deliver a message. For those unknowns who truly think they have something to offer and a chance to win, good on you. It may be hard for the rest of us to see how a newcomer will break through to the limelight, but that’s their problem, not ours.

What makes a candidate decide to run, make it official by registering with the state, and then back out? Conversations with two of those candidates reveal some of the reasons.

Kenneth Pinet was a Democratic candidate from South Portland. He was inspired by the need to fund programs for children, while at the same time controlling “waste” and spending on welfare. “People are struggling day to day,” he said, a struggle he hoped to help alleviate. Family issues intervened, and he knew he was a long shot. He filed to run on Aug. 25 and withdrew from the race on Sept. 8.

Deril Stubenrod, a Republican from Clinton, had a longer trajectory. With a background in firefighting and public safety, he is a straight-ahead fellow. “If you want it sugar-coated,” said Stubenrod with a laugh, “go to Dunkin’ Donuts.” He brought to the race a desire for “positive change, to make people’s lives better and to bring jobs into the state.”

He says his campaign was derailed when his employer made him aware of the Hatch Act, federal legislation that restricts federal employees (he is one) from running for office in certain circumstances. “I can have opinions, I can endorse candidates, but I can’t run for office,” he said. With a family to support, leaving his job was not an option. He registered to run last February and withdrew on July 18.

Attempts to connect with other ex-candidates failed. Libertarian Gil Doughty of Portland was in and out in 10 days, registering on Jan. 2, 2018, and withdrawing on Jan. 12. Green Independent Jay Dresser of Bangor registered on May 31 and withdrew Dec. 28. Liberty Libertarian Richard Light registered April 18 and left the race on Jan. 3.

Whatever their reasons for getting in or out, these former candidates were all willing to disrupt their lives for public service. The odds may have been against them, but they tried. There may be more dropouts as the reality of running for governor sets in. Three of the five independents running probably have legs, leaving us with as many as six general election candidates. That could get messy.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Retired nurse and former independent Maine State Senator.