Ebola: An October Surprise in the Maine Governor's Race?
Political campaigns spend a lot of time planning what to do if an opponent does this or does that. But things happen that candidates and their campaigns just can't plan for. Take this week. Several Maine political scientists say unexpected events in the last week of campaigning could well affect the race for governor in ways not anticipated.
Bowdoin College Government Professor Mike Franz says political scientists have a phrase for the events this week that could decide the very close race for governor. "This is what we would call an 'October surprise,' " he says. "These things happen occasionally where something, something lands in the middle of a race at the very end and, and shakes, shakes things up.”
There is agreement among the political scientists interviewed for this report that there were two October surprise events this week. The first was, arguably, not a huge one, given public polling: It was independent candidate Eliot Cutler calling a news conference to say he does not think he can win, so his supporters should feel free to vote for somebody else.
Jim Melcher is a political science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington. "I really don’t put that much value in the polls that came out before the Cutler statement, before Cutler’s financial backers saying they are backing Mike Michaud having Angus King come out for him."
Melcher says while some scenario involving Cutler might have been thought about by the Michaud and LePage campaigns, he doubts they were ready for exactly what Cutler did. Franz agrees the campaigns were likely caught off guard, but does not think Sen. Angus King’s endorsement of Michaud just hours after Cutler’s announcement is all that significant.
"Endorsements, from what we know in political science, don’t really make much of a difference, but what will make a difference in this case is the fact that Cutler has essentially released his voters to make a different call," Franz says. Both say it's likely Michaud will benefit, but say not all Cutler voters will abandon his candidacy and some will likely vote for LePage - and some may not vote at all.
What could have even more of an impact, says University of Maine Political Science Professor Mark Brewer, is the way Gov. LePage has handled the Kaci Hickox case, where the nurse refused LePage’s demand that she be quarantined at home and a judge agreed that quarantine is not needed.
"Gov. LePage, going out front, seeking a court order, saying we want this quarantine where I am looking out for the health of Mainers and nurse Hickox is potentially - I don’t want to call it a game changer, but do I think it is going to have an impact in these last few days of the race," Brewer says. "I think, absolutely, it will."
Mike Franz and Jim Melcher agree it will have a significant impact on the race for governor, with the huge amount of media attention and public concern. But Melcher says just how it will affect the race is far more difficult to predict.
"I don’t think the potential for its affecting the race necessarily trends to helping the governor or hurting the governor," Franz says. "I think it could go either way."
As with most elections, they all agree the crucial issue is just who bothers to go vote - and with the advent of early voting by many Mainers, how many may have cast their ballots before this week’s October surprises occurred.