Sunday, December 8, 2013
There's been a fair amount of chatter from local political pundits about how the outcome of the U.S. Senate race will measure the health of the Maine Democratic Party.
State Rep. Cynthia Dill of Cape Elizabeth, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, “is a strong-willed, no-nonsense representative of democratic (the adjective, not simply the party) values,” a reader says.
2012 File Photo/Kennebec Journal
Recent stories in the Wall Street Journal and The Hill have reported that party officials are worried about a poor showing by party nominee Cynthia Dill in the general election.
The state senator from Cape Elizabeth hasn't taken the traditional path to the nomination, which is to say, she hasn't been elected to legislative leadership, and her decision to run for the U.S. Senate wasn't encouraged by party establishment.
Republicans, whom Dill last year likened to the "Orcs from Lord of the Rings" in a Twitter missive, have been quick to label her as an extremist. Some in the GOP are already floating the narrative that the civil rights attorney represents a party out of touch with Mainers.
Some Democrats dispute efforts to paint Dill as representing the left wing of the party. As progressive activist Mike Tipping tweeted last week, some are "confusing loud with liberal," a reference to Dill's reputation as a bomb-thrower at the State House.
Others note that Dill is the nominee because Democrats' top candidates decided not to take on popular Angus King, fearing a tight three-way race would hand the Senate seat to the GOP.
Concerns about repeating the 2010 gubernatorial race raise the question: Is the Democratic Party losing its appeal to independents?
Mark Brewer, an associate political science professor at the University of Maine, believes it's a valid question, but he rejects the notion that the Senate race or the 2010 governor's race are metrics to answer it.
Brewer said the battle for the Legislature will better indicate whether Democrats can claim resurgence from the Republican wave elected in 2010. He said that outcome hinges on Democrats taking at least one chamber of the Legislature.
Local conventional wisdom says that Democrats have a strong chance of winning back the Maine House. Few predicted the GOP would take the House in 2010, and the current belief among Democrats is that the party will benefit from a market correction in 2012.
Republicans, however, aren't convinced, especially if the Democrats' game plan is to run against Gov. Paul LePage.
During a recent editorial board meeting with The Portland Press Herald, state Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, said he had never seen a legislative election won or lost on the popularity of the chief executive, or even a controversial policy initiative. Rosen said legislative races are decided by the ability of the candidate to connect with voters.
Some Democrats also are privately conceding that internal polls show LePage isn't as unpopular as some Democrats would like to believe. Apparently the pollings shows that a fair number of independents may not dig LePage's delivery, but they don't seem to mind his willingness to shake things up.
If such surveys are accurate, then Democratic fortunes rest with the recruitment of strong legislative candidates who can define themselves on issues, not just opposition to LePage.
Candidate recruitment was made a bit harder this year with the changes to the Maine Clean Election
Act, the law that allows candidates to earn public funding by gathering small donations. The law had been popular with both parties because it attracted candidates who may have had a distaste for the fundraising associated with traditional campaigns.
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