Maine Democrats Do Some Soul Searching in Wake of Election Defeats
Battered and bruised in the wake of yesterday's election, Maine Democrats were attempting to sort out why they lost seats in the Maine House, handed control of the Senate over to Republicans and saw a lackluster finish for the party's gubernatorial candidate. One political analyst says the party never really developed a statewide message that resonated with Maine voters. But Democratic leaders disagree.
None of yesterdays losses happened on Election Day, says University of Maine Political Science Professor Mark Brewer. The Maine Democratic Party, he says, embarked upon this election without a compelling action agenda for voters. And he says that if Democrats believed that all of the state's problems resided with Republican Gov. Paul LePage, then their solution was Mike Michaud.
But, as Brewer says, NOT being Paul LePage wasn't enough. "Other than that, things got kind of vague in a hurry," Brewer says.
The moment of truth for Michaud, Brewer says, may very well have been during a series of televised debates, when both LePage and Cutler challenged the Democrat on his educational initiatives by demanding to know how he would pay for them. Michaud responded by saying that he would work with the Legislature to find a solution, an answer that Brewer says probably provoked some voter skepticism - especially when contrasted against more specific alternatives from his opponents.
"You had Eliot Cutler with very detailed policy plans, books, proposals, all kinds of stuff, and Paul LePage had a well-defined record to run on and was very clear on what he thought he accomplished," Brewer says. "I think Michaud's ambiguity or vagueness not only hurt his campaign, but I think that kind of spread to the party as a whole."
House Speaker Mark Eves says that, while the focus may have been on the governor's race, Democratic lawmakers ran on a platform to improve the quality of life for Maine seniors, expand healthcare for thousands and create greater economic opportunity. Eves conceded that the message may have been eclipsed by the dynamics of what Democrats are calling a Republican year.
"Obviously the midterm elections, when you don't have a presidential year, the turnout's a little bit lower," Eves says. "We were, I think, saddled by some of the national trends where the president's approval rating is down. So I think that those were factors that played into statewide races."
In the duel between Michaud and LePage, UMaine's Mark Brewer says LePage was able to exceed his commonly assumed ceiling of 40 percent by a GOP ground swell in Maine's 2nd District. That turnout was buoyed in part, he says, by strong support for the GOP congressional candidate Bruce Poliquin, an energized response to an unpopular bear hunting initiative, and the controversy over Ebola.
Brewer says LePage's response to the Fort Kent nurse who drew international attention by defying the administration's quarantine order may have further bolstered support in northern Maine. On the other hand, Michaud, a former mill worker, failed to win by the margins that one might have expected in Maine's blue-collar communities. LePage took 40 percent of the vote from Michaud in Millinocket and 30 percent in east Millinocket, considered Michaud's home turf.
And Brewer says Michaud's decision to announce his gay sexual orientation probably also worked against him. In the paper-making town of Rumford, for instance, voters gave Democratic congressional candidate Emily Cain a win with 48 percent of the vote, but actually rejected Michaud, who received 40 percent of the vote to LePage's 52 percent.
"I think there's no doubt that in certain parts of the state, particularly in the more rural areas, that the sexual orientation issue played a role and it might be subconscious, but I think that there's no doubt that it played a role," Brewer said.
Key Democratic party leaders who had a late night on Election Day did not return calls for comment by air time.