With summer in full swing, the 2020 political clambake can wait



People! We are trying to have summer here. The candidates for various federal offices are besieging us with requests for money, but we are not feeling it. We are thinking about chilling out, not chipping in.

There is irony in the fact that candidates are asking for money as a way to combat money in politics. Requests for donations arrive daily. Candidates who have forsworn large donations or PAC money must gin up the small donations to support a viable campaign. That means many, many emails.

Is this really the only way to get the money out of politics? Creatively working the adorability factor can only go so far. “I hate to ask, but…,” “This is not easy for me.” Well, it’s all still money and if we have to write a check for $3 every day to keep “big money” out of politics, we are still facing election fatigue, just for a different reason. Every day the message is money, money, money.

When it comes to money, a Senate race is even more insatiable. The contest for Sen. Susan Collins’ seat is likely to be a record-breaker. The Washington Post tagged her seat as one of the two highest-priority seats for Democrats, and both parties will surely pour resources into the race. Democrats have a multi-candidate primary going, with three candidates declared and others lurking in the wings.

The prominent Democrats so far are House Speaker Sara Gideon and longtime Augusta advocate Betsy Sweet. According to the Post, Gideon was the choice of the national Democratic establishment and will benefit from the firepower they bring to bear on her race. By rights she ought to be the on-paper favorite in the contest, but national opinion on Maine politics has never made a whit of difference locally.

Sweet lost a gubernatorial primary in 2018 but that did not dim her enthusiasm for an electoral challenge, and she brings enthusiasm in spades. She is an object in motion who will stay in motion until the last vote is counted, and she is already amassing a following.

It remains to be seen how well either candidate fares outside of southern Maine, though Sweet may have the edge away from Cumberland County. She has cornered the market on live and lively, campaigning with gusto, already visiting Hancock County more than once. Gideon has a well-qualified resume but fewer personal contacts in rural Maine.

Collins, of course, has proved her mettle in that regard. A daughter of Aroostook County, her bona fides in rural Maine are long established. What has shifted the race into the “maybe” column are some recent votes, particularly that to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice.

Women who previously accepted Collins as a moderate are up in arms. Kavanaugh’s performance at his nomination hearings did not reassure. The possibility that the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 could be revisited has led to a more concerted effort to unseat Collins than she has faced in recent years.

The Senator did herself no favors with her newly energized detractors when she linked up with Senate colleague Lindsey Graham to form the Collins-Graham Majority Committee to raise money for her campaign. Graham, once considered an aisle-bridging bipartisan, has become a reliable Trump loyalist.

Even when President Donald Trump savaged his longtime friend John McCain, a man who suffered a brutal captivity in Vietnam while Donald Trump was safe at home under the protection of a bone spur deferment, Graham avowed his allegiance to the man he had earlier called “a jackass,” a jackass for whom he says he did not vote in 2016. His rationale for the shift, as he is quoted in a New York Times interview in February, is the “opportunity … to get some really good outcomes for the country.” We’re still waiting, Senator.

None of this has endeared Graham to Democrats, and the new Collins-Graham alliance will add fuel to the fire for her opponents. They are eagerly evaluating the merits of her challengers, deciding where to lend their support. When the general election rolls around they are sure to rally behind the Democratic candidate, whoever it is.

Perhaps Collins senses she cannot recover her standing with her erstwhile cross-party supporters and has decided to simply muscle her way through the next election without them. Whatever her strategy, this is likely to be one of the most partisan elections in which she has engaged.

Mind you, we are talking about elections in 2020, not tomorrow. For tomorrow we are hoping the sun will be out, the fish biting and the tourists in full spending mode. A year from now, when the election is ramping up to its final frenzy, we will be sick unto death of the whole political clambake.

 

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Retired nurse and former independent Maine State Senator.

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