Handicapping the primary races three weeks out



We are inching closer to the primary elections. Going in, none of the major party candidates has clear front runner status in either the 2nd Congressional district (except for unopposed Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin) or the gubernatorial race. Let’s see if we can narrow them down.

First of all, let’s call the race now for the 1st CD. It’s all about Chellie Pingree. Her Republican opponent, Mark Holbrook, has criticized the incumbent Pingree in a way not likely to play well in that district. She beat him once before, walking away, and he is unnecessarily nasty. There may be plenty of areas of disagreement but to say, as he does, that she “places more value on illegal immigrants than she does on middle-class Americans” is just plain ludicrous. For heaven’s sake, can’t we have a civil debate?

Two-term, Independent state representative Martin Grohman rounds out that race. He abandoned the Democratic party last September and announced for Congress just a month ago. If he qualifies for the ballot, he will join Pingree and Holbrook in the November election.

In the 2nd CD, there are three challengers still standing against incumbent Congressman Bruce Poliquin. Jonathan Fulford, a farmer and carpenter from Munroe, has dropped out. Too bad. He was an appealing candidate but alas, campaigning did not work for him. “Sometimes family is more important than anything else,” he said. “The pressures of the campaign on my family and myself have been substantial, and I am therefore withdrawing from the campaign.”

That leaves Jared Golden, Craig Olson and Lucas St. Clair in the Democratic congressional primary. At campaign events, Golden puts out the impression that he would rather be elsewhere. He is a product of the system, so if you don’t like the system…

Lucas St. Clair’s campaign is recently troubled by “issue” ads that sing his praises while ostensibly urging Mainers to defend the Katahdin Woods and Waters national monument. The trouble is, the monument is not under attack, so the “tell Congress to leave our monument alone” seems ill-timed. St. Clair has called for identifying the ad’s donors or pulling the ads down but needs to be more vigorous in his objections. It remains to be seen whether the flap will hurt him.

If the Democratic primary is about who can win against Bruce Poliquin, that is most likely St. Clair. He grew up in the culture of the 2nd CD, hunting, fishing and living largely off the grid. He won many over in the Katahdin campaign. Golden is new to the north. If you are looking to shift the seat to blue, St. Clair has the edge.

Craig Olson is an engaging candidate but he is not getting much traction behind frontrunners Golden and St.Clair. If you want to get a read on a community, hang out at the dump. In his home town of Islesboro, Olson runs the dump, aka the Islesboro Transfer Station. He served as a municipal official there as well, excellent training for state or federal office.

The man to beat in the 2nd CD is Poliquin, whose reluctance to engage his constituency, either directly through office visits or indirectly through press conferences or other public appearances, is legendary. Nevertheless, his impressive war chest and the power of the incumbency will make him hard to unseat.

In the governor’s campaign there is no incumbent, though all four Republican candidates might rightly be called the ghosts of Paul LePage. Shawn Moody has polled as the front runner, though other than having Team LePage behind him it is hard to understand why, given limited support in his first campaign.

By rights, Republican Senator Garret Mason and LePage loyalist and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette should be battling it out for first place. Mary Mayhew, a latecomer to the Republican party, is a product of the LePage administration too, but despite Mayhew and Fredette’s faithfulness to the Lepage ideology, it is Moody who won the outgoing governor’s support. If Moody wins the primary, he will face a more experienced Democrat who will give him a race, except … Except for the fact that Paul LePage won against all odds, twice.

As for Democrats in the governor’s race, it’s a melee with seven candidates. If you are looking for the “Goldilocks” candidate who is not too far left to alienate the entire LePage base, not a product of the political system we all love to hate, and doesn’t sound like he has drunk the political committee Kool-aid, Adam Cote is your man.

Remember that independent candidates will alter the dynamics of most of these races. In three weeks, the parties will deliver us their November options. If they go to their ideological extremes, the large and growing body of independent voters will be taking a hard look at candidates from outside the parties.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Retired nurse and former independent Maine State Senator.