Maine's Political Pulse: Taking Stock Of The Gubernatorial Candidates After Their First Debate

Sep 14, 2018

Today we begin a new series of talks here on Morning Edition, tapping into the expertise of our top political reporters, Steve Mistler and Mal Leary. With them, we’ll be taking Maine's political pulse.

Gratz: Good morning guys. The fall gubernatorial campaign began in earnest early this week. The four candidates made their first joint appearance in Lewiston. Steve, did anyone distinguish themselves during this debate?

Mistler: Well, I have to say, Irwin, that the event itself wasn't conducive to creating separation between the candidates. And that was because most of the questions were known in advance, so they could prepare, and they had, really, basically each three minutes to talk. But, that said, you could see some contours of the race to come based on the statements that they made. Republican Shawn Moody did a pretty good job of leaning really heavily on his business experience and his personal story, which is a compelling one, frankly. By contrast, Democrat Janet Mills talked a lot about her experience in Maine politics. While some voters will value that experience, they also want to hear what she's going to do, not what she has done. And, finally — I'll just say this real quick — the independents, they kind of used this forum to introduce themselves while talking about what they want to do.  

Leary: We are being bombarded with television ads — you know, really soft stuff. And then, lately, both the Republican Governors Association and the Democratic Governors Association have been pouring money in. So oftentimes in the space of the 6 p.m. news, for example, you will see an ad attacking Moody followed by an ad praising Moody followed by one for Janet Mills, before you even get into some of the other races.

Well, the other thing we have is the poll that AARP did of voters 50 and older that shows that the governor's race is very tight between Mills and Moody; both were within the margin of error. Mal, how important are those 50-and-older voters likely to be in the final outcome?

Leary: This is a very different election year. We're seeing greater mobilization among young people than we have seen in past elections, far more energy. So, I'm not sure how important it will be, except that in a race that's as close as this one appears to be, every single vote is going to count. And we have to remember we usually cast a third or more of our ballots prior to Election Day, so the campaigns really have to gear up because people will be making decisions and voting in the first part of October.

Mistler: I want to jump in real quick and talk about something that Mal and I discussed yesterday: That poll, and the previous poll that we have as a benchmark for this race, showed something that was very important, which is the importance to the people that responded to those polls of health care. And in both cases, it seems as though health care is surpassing what was traditionally the No. 1 issue for people, which is the economy. And I think that that's going to be a really key issue, especially as it relates to Medicaid expansion.

Leary: How this is going to work out is going to depend a lot on how these candidates focus their messages.

Steve, let me ask you: Have either of these independents done anything yet to begin to separate themselves?

Mistler: Well that's tough to say. I mean, if you go by the polls that we've seen, the answer is no. They're both polling in the low single digits, I might add. Together, though, they can still have an impact on the race. I mean, they have nowhere to go but up, I would imagine. And I thought Alan Caron again demonstrated that during the forum on Monday, where he did a really good job, I think, of talking about what he wants to do, contrasting that with what's happened over the last 8 years. A good example is when he talked about immigration. Here's what he said in his speech:

“We have to embrace change and we have to embrace new people.  They’re not going to look just like everybody else. And we shouldn't care, really, what they look like, what their first language is, or even who they worship. We should care that they want to help us build a brighter future."

Now what you don't hear at the end of that is Mills saying “nicely put.” And it's interesting because Mills has the most to lose, I would argue, of Caron improving his standing in the polls.

Leary: We're in for a rough ride in this election. Even worse than what we saw four years ago.