Just two weeks before Maine’s gubernatorial primaries, neither party has a clear front-runner.

“It’s very difficult; there is no scientific information out there, at least that any candidates are sharing,” said Sandy Maisel, a professor of government at Colby College. “You assume a couple have to be polling. If it were showing something good, we’d be seeing it.”
Seven Republicans and four Democrats are running in the primaries.

Maine’s a small state and nobody does any real primary polling, noted Brian Duff, a political scientist at the University of New England.
“In a way, it’s kind of nice,” Duff said. “We can have a real democratic (in the small ‘d’ sense) contest.”

That can be disorienting, to an extent, said Duff. No matter how much people complain about polling, people do look for public opinion as a way to gauge a campaign.

Name recognition polls show Republican Les Otten head and shoulders above his competitors and Democrat Elizabeth Mitchell with a lead on her rivals.

According to a recently released Critical Insights poll, 30 percent of registered voters could name Otten as a candidate, with the next Republican being Peter Mills at 16 percent. Mitchell was at 16 percent, with the next Democrat being Steve Rowe at 11 percent.
Otten’s name recognition reflects the money he has spent over the last year on media spots, Duff suggested.

Mitchell, the state Senate president, likely gets a bump from the press releases she put out at the end of the legislative session, Maisel said.

And, he added, there’s likely some association between her last name and that of one of Maine’s most famous politicians, George Mitchell – even though there’s no relation.

Most telling in the poll of 600 voters was that 42 percent couldn’t name any candidate, from either party.

The poll had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points at the 90 percent confidence level. It was taken from April 28 to May 7, before the Republican and Democratic state conventions.

Mark Brewer, a political scientist at the University of Maine, said he thinks the lack of a front-runner is unusual.
“These candidates need to start ratcheting up their TV efforts,” said Brewer. “In this race, in this crowded field, I think name recognition is going to be crucial.”

One exception, said Brewer, is Republican Paul LePage. His support isn’t being generated by his media campaign as much as it is from “this grass-roots tea party stuff that’s going on with him,” said Brewer.

Mainers will likely be deluged with political ads over the next two week, said Brewer. There’s a danger for candidates that their message will get lost in the noise, he said. Quality ads with strong messages will rise above the static, he said.
All of the candidates have either run televised ads or plan to over the next few weeks.

And there has been an increase in direct mailings to supporters, or possible supporters, said Chris Jackson, a lobbyist with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, who ran Republican nominee Chandler Woodcock’s campaign in 2006. But he would expect to see such things at this point, he added.

The behind-the-scenes action is what’s going to count at this stage, said Jackson. That boils down to the ground game, the get-out-the-vote strategy for the candidates.

“That’s going to determine who wins,” said Jackson. “Primaries are all about being very focused on who your supporters are and getting them to the polls.”

Candidates have to have the resources (cash in hand) and the organization to get voters out, said Jackson. Traditionally financed candidates have funds from a variety of sources, either raising contributions or putting their own money into the race.

As of April 29, the most recent financial reporting data available, Republican Steve Abbott had raised $263,193 and spent $197,121; Republican Bill Beardsley had raised $300,974 and spent $64,769; Republican Matt Jacobson had accumulated $138,221 and spent $107,236; LePage accumulated $217,352 and spent $28,452; Otten accumulated $1,392,687 and spent $1,366,652; Republican Bruce Poliquin accumulated $605,551 and spent $456,237; Democrat Steve Rowe accumulated $407,737 and spent $276,332; Democrat Rosa Scarcelli accumulated $321,991 and spent $293,761.

Republican Peter Mills has $600,000 in public campaign money under the Clean Election Act; Democrats Patrick McGowan and Elizabeth Mitchell, running as clean election candidates, have initial disbursements of $400,000 each, which could grow to $600,000 if Rowe and Scarcelli raise more.

In addition to increased political ads, there has been a flurry of endorsements recently.
Rowe got an endorsement from the League of Young Voters.

Abbott got support from Senate Assistant Minority Leader Jon Courtney and former Republican Leader Sen. Carol Weston.

Earlier in the campaign, Mitchell got an endorsement from former President Bill Clinton and McGowan got one from former U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy II.

Poliquin has received endorsements from business owners around the state.

Some political watchers are monitoring another factor: whether the tea party, anti-establishment sentiment seen in some U.S. Senate races will be a factor in Maine’s gubernatorial race.

On the Democratic side, Mitchell, McGowan and Rowe have worked extensively in state government, while Scarcelli is an outsider to the system.

On the Republican side, Mills is a long-serving legislator and Abbott was Sen. Susan Collins’ chief of staff. The other five candidates are regarded as outsiders.

“I don’t think Maine is going to be a hotbed of where this is going to happen,” Duff said of the anti-incumbent trend.

While the proposed Republican platform was replaced at the recent state convention with a right-leaning, tea party-influenced platform, Brewer said he didn’t think that necessarily spoke to a strong tea party presence in Maine.

“I wish someone could tell me how big the tea party crowd really is in Maine.

“I have no idea if it’s a small, energetic group, or if it’s a much bigger group,” Brewer said.

If LePage handily wins the GOP primary, that may give an indication of tea party power, he said.

Jackson discounted talk on the Republican side that the candidate who is most electable in November’s general election would win the primary, or that the most conservative candidate would.

“Parties nominate candidates that run the best campaign – I think that’s all there is to it,” said Jackson.

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: [email protected]