For a race that won’t alter the balance of power in Augusta, next week’s special election in state Senate District 7 is generating a lot of sparks.
The Republican Party is spending more than $20,000 on mailers attacking the Democratic candidate — the latest asks whether she’s become “unplugged” — and the GOP contender is facing serious questions about his business and personal finances.
Rep. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, is running against Louis Maietta Jr., a businessman and former South Portland city councilor who served a term in the House seven years ago.
They are facing off in Tuesday’s election for the Senate seat vacated when Democrat Larry Bliss resigned last month to take a job in California.
The district, which covers South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and the eastern part of Scarborough, was hotly contested before Dill and Maietta squared off. Bliss kept the seat in 2010 by just 75 votes, out of more than 18,000 cast, defeating Republican Joe Palmieri of South Portland.
Repeated attempts to reach Maietta, who has spent most of this week in the Caribbean for a daughter’s wedding, were unsuccessful. Calls left for him at his home, on his cellphone, at the family construction business and on his campaign manager’s cellphone were not returned.
Republicans have been particularly focused on defeating Dill because, according to the head of the party in the state, she may be the most liberal legislator in Augusta.
“It’s a clear Republican-Democrat race,” said Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster. “The people who work at Walmart are going to want our candidate, and the people who don’t are going to want her.”
Dill agrees that the partisan divide has sharpened in Maine.
“If there’s anything the 2010 elections have done, it’s to make clear there is a difference between Republicans and Democrats,” she said.
Dill said she has been pushing her agenda in the campaign, highlighting her efforts to expand broadband Internet access in the state to attract businesses and pledging to try to fend off what she calls Republican attempts to “radically alter the way life is in Maine.”
She also criticized the GOP’s attacks, saying they represent “a complete distortion of my voting record.”
One mailing blames Dill for lost jobs, high health insurance costs, and higher taxes and spending, while another shows a circus tent — with Dill in a magician’s outfit — and says she has “gone over the top.”
A third mailing, paid for by a group called “Still Fed up with Taxes,” says Dill joked about an incident in Florida in which a man brandished a gun at a school board meeting. Dill said the mailing took out of context some parts of a satirical piece on her blog that sought to highlight the prevalence of guns in society.
The GOP mocked Dill for an online video ad she shot at the “Freedom Tree” in South Portland. At one point in the video, she hops on a piece of granite with a plaque on it, explaining that the tree was planted to honor those who died or were missing in American wars.
The Republican Party sent out a news release saying she “jumped up and down on a memorial headstone.”
Dill said she stepped up on it while moving around and trying to stay warm before filming an ad on the issues.
As for Maietta, several media outlets have reported on his troubled personal and company finances.
Questions were raised about Maietta’s finances by documents passed anonymously to The Portland Press Herald: copies of IRS tax liens issued to Maietta for employees’ taxes that weren’t paid by the family construction business; tax liens on Maietta’s house for unpaid property taxes; and documents from a lawsuit in which Maietta was accused of failing to repay more than $600,000 in loans from an elderly woman.
Dill said she had nothing to do with the documents. She complained that Maietta is letting the party and other groups send out critical material and run a negative campaign on his behalf.
“While he’s enjoying a lovely family holiday down in the Caribbean, my kids are coming home to mailers suggesting I have some radical gun agenda,” she said.
Responded Webster: “She says some pretty off-the-wall comments, a little bizarre.”
Webster said Maietta fits the district and supports efforts to ease regulations on businesses. But Webster appears most eager to knock Dill.
“She was the ideal candidate for us” to run against, he said.
Dill said she’s trying to focus on the issues, but many voters seem eager to register their unhappiness with Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
Maine has been “constantly mocked” because of LePage, Dill said. “Any progress we might have been making has been halted.”
Webster said, “If I were running her campaign, I’d try to make it a referendum on LePage because, obviously, LePage is more conservative than the district.”
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: