Scott D’Amboise has little regard for what he calls the Maine Republican Party establishment. The party establishment, it seems, has little regard for him.
D’Amboise, backed by the tea party, had been engaged in a primary challenge against U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe for nearly two years when the senior senator unexpectedly abandoned her re-election bid in late February.
During the aftershock, D’Amboise released a statement proclaiming victory.
“I respect Sen. Snowe’s decision, and look forward to facing the Democratic nominee in the fall,” D’Amboise said.
He’s no longer the only Republican in the race. The Lisbon resident is, however, still the underdog.
“Now instead of running against one Olympia Snowe, I’m running against five Olympia Snowe clones,” D’Amboise said.
Five Republicans jumped into the fray rather than allow D’Amboise to coast through an uncontested June primary. One candidate, state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, quickly snatched up D’Amboise’s campaign manager.
The others, some with deep pockets and long-standing party connections, took the spotlight before D’Amboise could set foot in it.
Not that he hasn’t tried. D’Amboise, 48, has since embraced and amplified his outsider status. The rest of the field? “Career politicians,” he says.
D’Amboise is a self-described farm boy from Carmel turned husband, father, everyman. His parents weren’t deeply religious. D’Amboise is. He joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 28 years ago, when he met his wife. His faith, he says, keeps him on the “straight and narrow.”
He works days assisting optometrists at an eye care center in Portland. He runs a cleaning business.
His political experience consists of one three-year term on the Lisbon Board of Selectmen, from 2002 to 2005. He claims to have saved the town $2 million during his term, although the spending levels in Lisbon, which used a town-meeting style of government at the time, were ultimately determined by residents at the annual session. Town records show that Lisbon’s mil rate held steady in 2003 and 2004. It dipped $1 in 2005, thanks to a $173,468 decline in the budget.
D’Amboise’s congressional ambitions began in 2006, when he challenged Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud in the 2nd Congressional District. Michaud easily won re-election.
D’Amboise’s policy positions were conservative in 2006 and have since tacked further right with the ascendance of the tea party movement. He bills himself as a constitutionalist, conservative Christian. He supports dismantling the U.S. Department of Education and the Internal Revenue Service. He believes in a fair-use tax on goods and services, decreased environmental regulations and the use of home-grown energy, including nuclear, offshore drilling and increased natural gas fracking. He’s anti-abortion.
He’s concerned about the national debt.
“I looked at my children and realize they’re being sent to fiscal slavery,” he said. “They’ve bonded as fiscal slaves.”
D’Amboise says his GOP opponents are “career politicians,” “the establishment.” That, he says, is what separates him from the field.
“I call them The Webster 5,” he says, a reference to Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster.
Webster has said that he doesn’t think the party will coalesce behind D’Amboise; others, like Republican operative and columnist Matt Gagnon, have pointedly explained why.
Gagnon, in July 2011, penned the blog post “D’Amboise is not a serious candidate.” He ripped D’Amboise for, among other things, issuing a written polemic demanding that Snowe provide “an explanation and a letter of resignation” following news that the U.S. Department of Justice was investigating student recruiting practices at the Education Management Corp. Snowe’s husband, former Maine Gov. John McKernan, sits on the board of directors.
Snowe and McKernan vehemently denied any wrongdoing; McKernan isn’t a defendant in the lawsuit. Nonetheless, D’Amboise went on the attack.
“. . . She (Snowe) is holed up in her ornate Washington, D.C., office refusing to explain what she knew and when she knew it,” D’Amboise wrote.
Gagnon, the blogger, believed D’Amboise had entered the Senate race early in order to capitalize on the 2010 tea party ascendancy. He wrote that D’Amboise’s EDMC comments reaffirmed that belief.
D’Amboise says he needed to start his candidacy early to take on the “entrenched” Snowe. He has no regrets about his EDMC comments.
“I don’t regret it because it was the truth,” he said, adding that the media twisted his comments to make him “the villain.”
Others, meanwhile, noted the irony of D’Amboise’s EDMC attack.
When D’Amboise ran against Michaud in 2006, campaign finance reports show he collected a $2,100 donation from McKernan’s EDMC PAC. It was the second-largest donation to D’Amboise’s campaign. The largest, $5,000, came from Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ Dirigo PAC.
There’s more: D’Amboise didn’t declare his candidacy in 2006 until March 9, leaving him just nine days to gather 1,500 signatures to get on the primary ballot.
Snowe sent members of her organization to help D’Amboise collect the signatures.
D’Amboise doesn’t mention Snowe, but he acknowledges that the party establishment helped get him on the ballot.
“After that they said, ‘You’re basically on your own,”‘ he said. “It wasn’t the fact that I wasn’t a qualified candidate, it was the fact that they didn’t think anybody could beat Michaud.”
D’Amboise raised just under $29,000 in 2006. He finished with a little more than 29 percent of the vote.
D’Amboise’s fundraising against Snowe was far more robust. He’s gathered $609,830 so far. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 95 percent of the money came from well-heeled, out-of-state donors, many of whom are bankrolling other tea party candidates.
Some critics say D’Amboise’s out-of-state backers signal that the candidate doesn’t have local, grass-roots support to turn out voters. However, out-of-state funding is common in U.S. Senate races. Seventy-nine percent of Snowe’s money was from out of state, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis.
More worrisome for D’Amboise, political observers say, is how he’s spending his money and whether or not he’ll continue to bring it in given the new race dynamic.
For a low-profile candidate like D’Amboise, attracting wealthy out-of-state donors means renting expensive mailing lists, according to Dan Billings, a longtime GOP operative, current legal counsel to Gov. Paul LePage and supporter of candidate Rick Bennett.
That may help explain why D’Amboise’s campaign has spent more than $487,000. Most has gone to mailing companies to help raise more money. He hasn’t purchased a single television ad.
D’Amboise’s campaign has also paid his wife more than $8,000 in mileage reimbursements. The expenditures caught the attention of D’Amboise’s campaign manager, Sam Pimm.
The reimbursement level isn’t unusual for a congressional race when candidates log tens of thousands of miles, Pimm said. Billings agreed, but noted that campaigns typically don’t pay out such expenditures until the end.
“Spending $8,000 on mileage now is $8,000 you don’t spend on an ad,” Billings said.
D’Amboise acknowledges that donations have dropped off “a little” since Snowe exited. But he remains hopeful that voters will look at him and the other five candidates and see the chance for real change.
D’Amboise often says that he’s the reason Snowe bailed out of the race. As for GOP competitors, D’Amboise wonders why none of them had the “courage” or “guts” to take her on when he did.
“They’re all career politicians,” he said. “Some of them may have taken a little break, but their desire to get back in is the only reason they’re doing this.”
He added, “I’m not doing any of this for me. It’s not about Scott, it’s not about making a name for myself. It’s about serving the people.”
Staff Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: [email protected]