A former Florida businessman and who ran for governor there is now making a play for one of Maine’s U.S. Senate seats. Although observers of the closely watched race say independent Max Linn can’t beat incumbent Republican Susan Collins or Democrat Sara Gideon, he could influence which one of them does get the win.
Max Linn, 62, is a retired financial planner with an eclectic political history. In the late 1990s he was a citizen-activist for term limits in Florida. In 2006, he ran for governor there as a Reform Party candidate and lost. Two years later he self-financed a half-million-dollar run in a Democratic congressional primary, and lost.
Since then, he said, his distrust of two-party politics has grown.
“It’s broken because Washington is broken, and it’s a rigged system, and it’s rigged for the big, multinational companies,” he said.
Linn made Maine his home base a little over a decade ago, and he lives in Bar Harbor; his wife is Hanna Aquino-Linn. In 2018, his bid to become Maine Republicans’ Senate nominee failed after hundreds of his petition signatures were thrown out.
Now, he’s running for Senate again, this time as an independent, up against Collins, Gideon and independent Lisa Savage, a longtime member of the Green Independent party. And the corporations, Linn said, are still running the show, writing legislation that is duly enacted by partisan leadership.
“And it’s handed to them by the lobbyists. And that’s why a vote for Sarah or Susan is not really a vote for Sarah or Susan, it’s voting for Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer. And they’re not going to give a damn about Maine. And that’s the truth,” he said.
The anti-corporate critique can sound a little like Bernie Sanders, as does Linn’s support for forgiving student loans. He calls himself an environmentalist and he opposes Central Maine Power’s controversial power-line project.
But Linn is also calling for a five-year moratorium on new immigrants entering the U.S. and urging Americans to buy more guns and ammunition for self-defense. And he is vociferously supporting President Donald Trump’s reelection, in contrast with Collins, who has dodged questions about whether she will vote for Trump.
“He’s sort of ideologically all over the place,” said Dan Shea, director of Colby College’s Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs. “In some ways he really swings to the left, on a number of issues, almost populist. But at the same time he’ll have some very conservative positions, and I think he is hitching his wagon to Donald Trump. And Max Linn really has an eclectic set of policy positions.”
In a recent Colby poll, Linn garnered 5 percent support — more than Savage and enough to keep either Collins or Gideon from taking a clear majority in this year’s election. And he did it with no party behind him and no advertising.
He has shown an ability to make an impression, as in the first televised debate early last month.
“I have to be way outside the box tonight because I am competing against $100 million. So I’m going to put your question aside, and I have a bombshell to announce tonight,” he said.
“I would ask that you stick with the question,” the moderator said.
“Well,” Linn said, “request denied.”
Outside the box he was, consistently avoiding the panel’s direct questions with what became a bit of a tagline.
“Request denied again,” he said.
Linn’s online campaign videos are now called the “Request Denied” podcast. And he tried to engineer another attention-grabber in another recent debate, in which he dramatically flourished a surgical mask and a pair of scissors.
“Symbolically I want to cut these masks, right in front of our viewers. I want to be the first senate candidate and your first Senator in the United States to say I protest government telling us what we have to wear and telling us what … businesses are necessary and what are unnecessary, this is an encroachment on our Constitution and our Bill of Rights and it must stop,” he said.
Such antics have brought him some attention and some notoriety, with one columnist calling Linn a “court jester.” But it’s a tried and-true tactic for outsiders.
“At times it’s beneficial to act a little outrageous because it attracts the attention of the public, and then you get to close the deal,” said Russell Verney, a top advisor to Linn’s Florida gubernatorial campaign and now executive director of Project Veritas, a right-leaning, self-styled investigative journalism group that produces controversial and highly-edited videos.
Verney said Linn was an optimistic, energetic and committed candidate. And Verney, who in 1996 directed Ross Perot’s presidential campaign, said that what can seem an outsider’s dream — such as Perot’s focus on a balanced federal budget — can become a mainstream philosophy, win or lose.
“So as Max Linn and other independent third-party candidates raise legitimate issues that Republicans [and] Democrats don’t want to talk about, he’s making an impact on the state of Maine even if he doesn’t win the election,” he said. “Of course, if he does win the election, then he gets to implement those changes.”
Few if any observers are awarding Linn, who’s reported raising and spending no money for the campaign, a chance to win the Senate seat. But with the state’s unique ranked-choice voting system in play, the second choice of voters who pick Linn first could prove decisive in who ultimately piles up a majority of votes.
Shea said the possibilities are pretty hard to parse, and that while one might expect most of Linn’s voters to move to Collins for their second choice, the polling data, while limited, shows more Max Linn voters instead choosing progressive Savage second.
“Political scientists and pundits are looking for this consistent flow of issue positions and vote choice. I’m not exactly sure that we’ll see that here,” he said. “I’m not so sure it’s a policy-driven vote choice with Max Linn. It may be more of a protest vote.”
Linn’s campaign has tweeted out conflicting messages about a preferred second choice.
“Vote for change 1st and vote for Susan or Sarah 2nd. And take advantage of what Maine has uniquely that no other state in the history of America has had, and that is ranked-choice voting at the federal level. So you can vote for your candidate who you thought was your favorite 2nd, and you can vote for change 1st,” Linn said in a recent interview.
Linn is hoping fed-up Maine voters will see him as that agent of change.