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Money isn’t everything in politics, but it helps

Pat Wellenbach, Robert F. Bukaty
Composite of AP file photos
Newly inaugurated Maine Govs. Paul LePage (left) and Janet Mills, deliver remarks after being sworn in on Jan. 5, 2011, and Jan. 2, 2019, respectively.

In this week’s Political Pulse: Money isn’t everything in politics, but it helps. Plus abortion access and defunding the police.

The November elections are roughly 100 days away and the campaigns for governor, Congress and the State House in Maine are starting to heat up – slightly.

It has been a fairly tame and low-profile election season so far, at least publicly. That will certainly change after Labor Day, which is traditionally when the retail politicking, speech-making and mud-slinging really starts in here in Maine.

But in the past week, we’ve seen some high-profile endorsements from groups such as Planned Parenthood and the Fraternal Order of Police (more on those later), a few campaign events and hefty fundraising figures for some candidates.

On the money side, Democratic Gov. Janet Mills has already exceeded her $3 million haul during her 2018 campaign, reporting $3.8 million in total contributions as of July 19. She raised nearly twice as much in the six-week period surrounding the June 14 primary (just over $600,000) than she did during the same period in 2018. So the Mills campaign is obviously stepping up its fundraising efforts.

Of course, money isn’t everything in campaigns. And we need look no further than Mills’ Republican opponent in November, former Gov. Paul LePage, for proof of this.

LePage had raised roughly $2 million less than Mills as of mid-July, and his haul during the most recent six-week reporting period was roughly half that of Mills. In terms of available cash, Mills had $2.7 million in the bank compared with $1.2 million for LePage.

But as campaign advisor Brent Littlefield pointed out, LePage trailed well behind his opponents in terms of fundraising during his 2010 and 2014 campaigns — and still finished ahead of them on Election Day.

“He’s been vastly outspent,” Littlefield said. “I think Susan Collins was vastly outspent last time. So it is what it is. If money was a determining factor, then Sara Gideon would be in the U.S. Senate right now.”

Gideon, a Democrat, raised roughly $75 million in her 2020 race compared with $30 million received by Maine’s senior Republican senator. Collins defeated her by about 9 percentage points.

The only fundraising reported by the third gubernatorial candidate on the November ballot, independent Sam Hunkler, was $2,000 that came from the candidate himself. Hunkler has said he hopes to spend less than $5,000 on the race.

The amount that Mills and LePage raise, and spend, could easily be eclipsed by how much the national parties and outside groups spend trying to get their preferred candidate elected.

The Democratic Governors Association and the Republican Governors Association are already involved and reserving television air time for political ads, probably much of them post-Labor Day. The RGA spent roughly $5 million to boost LePage during his 2014 reelection campaign, and the DGA funneled $4.2 million into a political action committee, A Better Maine, to support Mills in 2018.

So enjoy summer while you can, because the attack ads, mailers and campaign calls are coming.

Abortion access

It is already endorsement season, however, and while many endorsements are not particularly newsworthy or surprising, there were two this past week that were … interesting.

On Wednesday, Planned Parenthood’s PAC endorsed Mills’ campaign. This is definitely in the “no surprise” category. Planned Parenthood is an abortion provider and Mills is staunchly supportive of abortion rights. LePage, meanwhile, opposes abortion rights.

But during a press conference, Mills said she is working with the office of Attorney General Aaron Frey to explore whether access to abortion is already protected in Maine’s constitution. A 1993 state law guarantees a woman’s right to access abortion. However, laws can be undone as easily as they are enacted, whereas constitutional language is more difficult (but not impossible) to change.

As the Bangor Daily News reported on Thursday, some abortion rights proponents believe a 2013 Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling in a case on sex offender laws could provide that protection.

“It would have been nicer if the Law Court had specifically said, ‘Yeah, under the state constitution, there is a right to abortion,” attorney and constitutional researcher Marshall Tinkle told the BDN. “They haven’t quite said that but it can be inferred from the (2013) decision and from similar state decisions.”

If it doesn’t, proponents could try to amend Maine’s Constitution. But the odds of that happening appear long. The first step in that process is winning two-thirds support in both the Maine House and Senate before it can even be sent to voters for consideration. Democrats don’t have two-thirds majorities in either chamber now and Republicans are hoping for major gains this election.

Democrats are making abortion a major issue headed into November. And Mills had this to say about her GOP rival.

“We know what Paul LePage will do, not matter what he says today or tomorrow,” Mills said during the Planned Parenthood event, according to the Portland Press Herald.

In fact, LePage did discuss abortion just two days earlier. And he repeated his contention — but more forcefully this time — that it’s not on his agenda.

“It is legal,” LePage told reporters. “Nobody is saying they are going to reverse it. I am certainly not involved in reversing it or even attempt to do anything against abortion. It is the law of the state.”

Despite LePage’s assertion, the 2022 Maine GOP Platform defines human life as beginning at conception.

Awkward moment – or insulting?

LePage made those comments during a Q&A with press after receiving the endorsement of the Maine Lodge Fraternal Order of Police in Maine, which is the state’s largest police union.

The organization also endorsed Democratic Rep. Jared Golden over Republican Bruce Poliquin and independent Tiffany Bond in their rematch for the 2nd Congressional District seat. Leaders of the group praised Golden’s support of law enforcement and his willingness to vote opposite of his party “when he needs to.”

Poliquin and Republicans had been trying to link Golden — a moderate representing an increasingly conservative district — to the “defund the police” movement. But rather than focus on a different issue, Poliquin’s campaign doubled down and seemed to question the police group’s decision-making.

“The FOP endorses people of both political parties and sometimes gets it right, but with Jared Golden they had the wool pulled over their eyes,” Poliquin, who represented 2nd District for four years, said in a statement.

Golden responded by calling the statement “insulting” — as did the leadership of the police group, apparently.

In a statement, Bond said the police group hadn't acknowledged her presence in the race.

"It's been pretty clear this year that many groups and organizations don't acknowledge women, minorities, LGBTQIA+, the disabled, those struggling with income insecurity, and other vulnerable groups. It's time for leadership that does. Our communities cannot thrive without a society that is there for all of us," she said.

Rep. Dr. Shah?

Dr. Nirav Shah, who has been the public face and voice of Maine’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, gave a lengthy interview recently for a feature in Down East magazine.

Among the many insights into his life away from a microphone, Shah said he and his wife plan to stay in Maine regardless of who wins the race for governor. LePage and Maine Republican Party have strongly criticized Mills’ response to the pandemic, which was guided by advice from Shah.

“We just signed up to put a heat pump on our house,” Shah told the writer for Down East. “We’re staying.”

But then he reportedly suggested, “admittedly in passing,” the article states, that he could seek political office almost as a way to get back at Twitter trolls.

“I’m staying,” he said. “You think you’re going to bully me out of the state? Not even close. I might even run for office, just to stick it in your face.”

Maine's Political Pulse was written this week political correspondent Kevin Miller produced by digital reporter Esta Pratt-Kielley. Read past editions or listen to the Political Pulse podcast at mainepublic.org/pulse.

Updated: July 29, 2022 at 1:06 PM EDT
This story has been updated with a statement from independent 2nd District candidate Tiffany Bond.