It’s time once again to take Maine’s political pulse. Maine Public political experts Steve Mistler and Mal Leary return again this week to share their observations of how Maine's top races are shaping up. They talk with with Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz.
GRATZ: Gentlemen welcome back.
LEARY: Hello Irwin.
MISTLER: Hey Irwin.
Well it's crunch time now for the campaigns. Mal, this is when people really do focus on politics and the choices ahead of them. What, if anything, are the campaigns doing differently now?
LEARY: I think we're going to see them starting to try to focus on those undecided voters. There's a considerable number, depending on which public opinion poll you look at. So, there's a lot of voters that could be shifted to one candidate or another. So, I think we're going to start seeing more targeted ads to try to bring those folks to the polls. Layered on top of all of that is the traditional get-out-the-vote efforts. We're seeing record numbers of absentee ballots already being requested. What was amazing to me was one-fifth of all the ballots that were cast in the 2016 presidential race were cast in the last two weeks by absentee ballots.
MISTLER: And the other thing to add to this is that there's still room for the "surprise" - the late ads that come in and they drop something very controversial.
Steve, independent gubernatorial candidate Alan Caron wrote last March if he didn't think he could win he would withdraw by mid-October. Well, it's now late October, the polls show him way behind. Any sign he's going to get out?
MISTLER: Well not any public sign. What his campaign has said to me and others is that there's been no decision made. But I would expect - and I'm hearing - that a decision will be made very soon. You know, I don't know what that's going to be. But there are a couple of big debates left, including ours on Sunday. What I've observed is Alan Caron seems to be enjoying these debates, that, you know, he's sort of holding court. And I think maybe he's waiting for those to conclude before he makes his announcement. Now, it'll be interesting to see how Alan Caron gets out of the race. Does he simply withdraw from the race or does he throw his support behind Janet Mills?
Now there's the other independent in the race Terry Hayes who was a Democrat turned independent. Why is she still hanging on at this point?
LEARY: She's in it for the long haul, as she puts it. She believes there's still a path by which she can get the votes to win this race. And, quite frankly, looking at the way the numbers are in the polls, I don't see that. But as long as she is seeing that path I don't think you're going to see her even begin to think about dropping out of the race. And it's going to be interesting to see the message she tries to craft in these final days to get at those undecided voters - that they should consider her as an independent when she's so far down in the polls.
MISTLER: One thing that we saw back in the most recent campaign finance report is that Terry Hayes has $200,000 left in cash-on-hand. Now, I've checked with the Maine Ethics Commission because she's running as a publicly-financed candidate and she has received an additional disbursement - a supplemental disbursement - under that program of $175,000. But if you go and you look at the FCC report, which tells you what candidates and campaigns are spending on television ads, Terry Hayes has not been on television since Oct. 2. This is a critical time to communicate with voters that Mal was talking about in particular - the persuadable ones. The question is, does she have the resources to get her message out in the final stretch of the campaign? She's still up on digital platforms. She's still up on the radio. But in terms of television, her campaign tells me that she's week-to-week.
Steve, in a report that you did for us this week, you had a story that featured this quote from Lewiston City Clerk Kathy Montvale about voters who were casting their ranked-choice voting ballots for Congress.
AUDIO FROM STORY: “You know, they kind of lean out of the booth and say, ‘Hey how come we can't do this for governor?’ “
Of course, the answer is the courts say it violates the Maine Constitution. But I wonder is there evidence ranked-choice voting is gaining support in some quarters?
MISTLER: Well, we haven't seen anything to suggest that. But what we've learned just from talking to election officials is that people are wondering why they can't vote using this system for governor. I mean, the big part of the campaign two years ago by ranked-choice voting supporters was that it was going to eliminate this so-called spoiler effect. And in a race for governor, this is very much in play, this split vote factor, especially if Terry Hayes remains in the race, which I fully expect her to do. And it's something that the advocates of ranked-choice voting said ranked-choice voting would prevent. And what's interesting, too, is that the very people that were supporting ranked-choice voting two years ago are also key operators of Terry Hayes campaign. And so they are, at this very moment, in a position where ranked-choice voting is not in play, and some people are questioning that - why not? Why isn't it? It's a valid question. And then you also have a candidate who could very well carry out the same thing that happened in 2010, which helped Gov. Paul LePage in his first victory.
LEARY: I think the whole future of ranked-choice voting could hinge on the fact that it is being used in the congressional races. I think it's pretty clear that Bruce Poliquin, if he wins the plurality but then loses because of ranked-choice voting, is not going to stand around and say, “Oh gee, I lost.” Who's going to take it to court on the constitutional questions that have yet to be looked at by the courts?
Gentlemen, thank you very much for the time. We appreciate it, as always.
LEARY: Thank you, Irwin.