After Democrat Troy Jackson gave a rousing speech at the party’s state convention, his congressional campaign got an endorsement last week from the son of John Steinbeck.

That’s right: The legendary author, who penned “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Of Mice and Men” among other well-known works before his death in 1968, is now linked to Jackson’s campaign in the race for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat.

Jackson’s speech, after his primary opponent Emily Cain, was the rhetorical high point of the convention, which was tailor-made to showcase outgoing 2nd District Rep. Mike Michaud, who is running for governor.

It was a speech that brimmed with rural populism, with the Maine Senate majority leader and logger from Allagash railing against the “corporate greed” that he believes keeps working-class people poor.

Jackson weaved this message with anecdotes from his life, recounting his young mother raising him in a shack with no heat or running water and Jackson’s young son squeezing his thumb tightly when he didn’t want his father leaving Aroostook County for days on end for logging work near Millinocket.

“When the tea party goes after the powerless, I will be their power. When Congress forgets the words of the middle class, I will be their voice,” Jackson said at the speech’s climax. “When Republicans target the downtrodden, I will be their shield.”

All this imagery reminded a Jackson supporter of the 1940 film adaptation of Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” the story of a family of farmers driven from Oklahoma to California by the Dust Bowl.

The film starred Hollywood legend Henry Fonda as Tom Joad, the main character.

The Jackson supporter sent Jackson’s speech to the Palladin Group, which manages the Steinbeck family’s literary properties.

Steinbeck’s son, Thomas, also an author, watched it, noticed the similarities to his father’s political beliefs and ended up giving Jackson’s campaign his blessing to quote Steinbeck’s writing over the rest of the campaign.

In a statement, Thomas Steinbeck said anyone who saw Jackson’s speech “would have to agree that no explanation should be required to understand why John Steinbeck’s words are appropriate for use in his campaign.”

“Troy Jackson’s campaign is grounded in the very spirit of the words of John Steinbeck; a dyed in the wool, Jeffersonian Democrat and a man who was steeped in the tradition of support for those who speak from the heart for the people who have no voice,” Thomas Steinbeck said.

Jackson has long been an underdog in the race: At last check, his campaign had $19,000 left to spend to Cain’s $145,000, with outside groups also spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on ad campaigns against him.

After the speech and the blessing, he’s looking like even more of a Steinbeckian character going into Tuesday.

– Michael Shepherd

‘Political stench’ in LEPAGE PLAN

It’s obvious, and certainly not a surprise, that Republican Gov. Paul LePage, his state communications staff and his re-election campaign are going to use the Department of Veterans Affairs waiting list scandal to batter U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, the Democrat attempting to unseat the governor in November.

Even on Thursday, when Michaud unveiled his plan to create an Office of Inspector General to oversee the controversy-prone Department of Health and Human Services, the governor’s re-election campaign seized a glaring opportunity for a nifty rhetorical pivot. After all, it was the U.S. Office of Inspector General that helped uncover the VA scandal while Michaud was on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. (He’s now the ranking Democrat on the panel.)

While many Republicans – and certainly independent Eliot Cutler – believe that the VA scandal is fair game, not all support some of the tactics deployed in the attack. Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, is one of them. Wilson, a combat veteran who served two tours in Iraq and Kuwait with the Marine Corps, posted on his Facebook page Thursday that LePage’s request to investigate the VA Togus Medical Center “has political stench all over it.”

“While I want to ensure the VA is held accountable, this is not the way to accomplish it,” he wrote. “Even if they were given access, they would have no clue where to begin.”

In a letter to President Obama last week, LePage and five other Republican governors, including Rick Scott of Florida, asked the federal government for authority to investigate VA facilities in their states.

In addition to his objection to the political maneuvering, Wilson’s post implied a lack of confidence in state investigators. If LePage follows the lead of Scott, those investigators would be from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Wilson’s post touched off a spirited, but mostly civil, debate.

“I disagree, many vets across the U.S. have been harmed by mismanagement of the VA and the … governors who signed the letter deserve to get to the bottom of it to better assist those vets who the VA has failed,” Assistant House Minority Leader Alex Willette, R-Mapleton, responded.

Wilson isn’t seeking re-election this year. He’s taking a job with the Department of Veterans Affairs. During his term he’s been a strong advocate for veterans. He’s supported LePage on a number of issues, taking the lead on a contentious military recruiters bill in 2013. He’s also not afraid to oppose LePage on high-profile issues.

Wilson was one of several Republicans who supported the expansion of Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act. LePage made defeating Medicaid expansion a priority over the past session.

– Steve Mistler

Republicans reshuffle

Girding for the political ground game that will play out across the state, the Maine Republican Party this week announced the hiring of a field director for Gov. Paul LePage’s re-election campaign and the reassignment of a longtime Maine party spokesman.

State Republicans hired Lance Henderson, a party staffer and campaign professional from Walla Walla, Washington, to run field operations for LePage’s re-election bid.

Henderson has experience building voter files, the expansive electronic databases used to track which residents the campaigns have reached, who is likely to vote with them, and who they could possibly sway, according to a party statement.

When Election Day nears, voter files are indispensable tools for getting out the vote, when campaigns use the information they’ve collected to follow up with individual voters and urge them to go to the polls.

Henderson’s experience with national databases began in 1996, when he helped develop a 50-state database for the Republican National Committee, the party said.

David Sorenson, meanwhile, has taken a leave of absence as communications director for the Maine House Republican Office to serve as the Maine Republican Party spokesman through November’s election, a reprisal of his role during the 2012 midterm electoral season.

“Our goal since we began building this team was to bring the best available talent on board to win elections in 2014,” said Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party. “Lance and David’s stellar skills and accomplishments are an exciting addition to our team.”

– Matt Byrne

Long walk for Bellows

U.S. Democratic Senate candidate Shenna Bellows announced Friday that she will walk 350 miles this summer during her bid to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

The walk, dubbed the “Walk With Maine for Jobs and the Economy” by the Bellows campaign, dovetails with her plan to visit voters in every Maine town.

Bellows has touted her grassroots support since the get-go, an attempt to draw a contrast with Collins. So far that effort hasn’t yielded a significant bump in Bellows’ name recognition, which recent polls show the Democrat sorely lacks.

Bellows will walk from Houlton in Aroostook County to Kittery in York County. The trek will take her to a 63 locales.

– Steve Mistler

Campaign Notebook is a compilation of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram political blogs, Open Season and Capitol Ticker. Press Herald/Telegram staff writers Steve Mistler, Randy Billings, Eric Russell, Kevin Miller and Matt Byrne and Kennebec Journal reporter Michael Shepherd contribute to the blogs.