Make no mistake about it, Democrat Benjamin Pollard fully understands how most of the world perceives his crusade to become Maine’s next U.S. senator.
“It’s a giant leap for me,” Pollard, 39, said with a humble smile Saturday morning. “And a small step for mankind.”
OK, so it’s not the kind of slogan you’d want to put on a bumper sticker.
Yet there Pollard still stands — all but oblivious to the mad scramble touched off by Sen. Olympia Snowe’s stunning announcement last week that she will not seek a fourth term.
And there Pollard will stay, fervent in his belief that his fellow Mainers — and all Americans, for that matter — need him to help get our broken political system back on track.
Say what? Is this guy delusional?
Maybe so. But if blatant self-deception is a disqualifier for a statewide political office, then how do you explain the dozen or so Democrats, Republicans and independents who looked in the mirror last week and suddenly found themselves staring at Snowe’s successor?
(Note to Republican State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin: Private-sector moonlighting in violation of the Maine Constitution is not, repeat not, a springboard to Capitol Hill.)
Besides, sometimes it takes a guy like Pollard to remind us how lucky we are to live in a country where the campaign trail, however steep, is accessible to anyone with an imagination.
“When I was 5 years old, I asked my mother a number of questions about the country and how it worked,” Pollard said. “And I basically said, ‘Who’s in charge here?’ And she said, ‘It’s the president.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m going to be the president.’ “
Or at least a senator.
Pollard grew up in Blue Hill, where he graduated as class salutatorian at George Stevens Academy.
From there it was on to Stanford University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations with a focus on the environment and Latin America.
After college, Pollard came home to Maine and worked as a weekly newspaper reporter and editor in Castine and Blue Hill, where he also won a write-in campaign — his first and only other run for office — for a seat on the local Planning Board.
He then went to work for The Wilderness Society in Boston, after which he earned his master’s degree from Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
Moving to Portland seven years ago, Pollard founded Pollard Builders, an “ecologically sustainable construction company” that took in $830,000 in 2009 but has since fallen on lean times.
He’s single, serves as a lector and member of the choir at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Portland, coaches the sailing team at Cheverus High School, swims with the Maine Masters Swim Club in Cumberland (the site of his anything-but-splashy candidacy announcement in January) and still harbors a longtime ambition to join the U.S. Navy.
And oh yes, he’s not your typical Democrat.
“I don’t have a party-line view,” Pollard said. “I have views that cross party lines.”
He can say that again.
While he’s a big believer in helping the poor and protecting the environment, he opposes President Obama’s health care reforms (the insurance-coverage mandate bothers him) and worries about pending decreases in the defense budget.
His thoughts on Iran as a potential nuclear threat?
“I think this spring is the time for America to launch strikes — tactical strikes to take out the nuclear facilities,” Pollard replied matter-of-factly.
What’s more, he continued, the United States should warn Iran, “If you retaliate in any way against Israel, we will consider it an attack against American soil and will retaliate with the full force and might of the American military.”
Hmmm … has he considered how that might go over at the Democratic state convention this June?
“In many ways,” conceded Pollard, “I’m positioned better for the general election than the primary.”
Ah yes, the primary.
Pollard hates to ask people for money — he won’t accept more than $100 from any individual, prefers contributions of $5 and thus far has amassed a war chest of $40.
He’s also not crazy about chasing after signatures — he only has about 300 of the 2,000 he’ll need by March 15 to qualify for the Democratic primary ballot.
But he’s paying four signature collectors out of his own pocket — he’s even equipped them with extra-long wooden clipboards he built to better fit the clunky petition forms. And he promises he’ll make the deadline.
As for the competition, Pollard is well aware how radically Snowe’s sudden exit has altered the Democratic landscape: With U.S. Rep Chellie Pingree and former Gov. John Baldacci now expected to jump in, state Rep. Jon Hinck and state Sen. Cynthia Dill have hastily stepped aside.
But not Pollard. Truth be told, he can’t wait to take to the stage when Maine’s Democrats gather in Augusta on June 3.
His end game?
“Electrify. That’s the word — electrify,” he said with a can’t-lose smile. “I’ll be on fire.”
So go ahead and chuckle at this dreamer who grew up convinced he’d be president and still gets tingles when he reads the lofty speeches of Teddy Roosevelt and the brothers Kennedy.
But before you write off Pollard as utterly insignificant, take a moment to check in on the Syrian city of Homs, where today people cower in their bombed-out homes while their own government tries to annihilate them.
Or consider the widespread anger in Moscow, where Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was poised to sidestep into the presidency Saturday in an election that many say was rigged from the get-go.
Then take another look at Maine, where last week’s political chaos spawned endless fascination — but nary a moment of fear.
Why in the world is Benjamin Pollard running for the U.S. Senate?
“I believe in myself — as you can tell,” he said, still smiling. “And I believe the country and the state need someone like me, with my views, to help bring us together.”
Only in America.
Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:
Correction: March 3, 2012
This article has been updated to show that Former Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap has not withdrawn from the U.S. Senate race.