April 9, 2012

Independent voters shape Maine political scene

Unattached voters give Maine its reputation for being willing to elect leaders from either or neither party.

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Other states are moving in Maine's direction. Voters in swing states such as Florida and Pennsylvania are gradually shifting out of parties while unenrolled numbers grow.

"That's the trend pretty much nationwide," said Doug Lewis, executive director of the Texas-based Election Center, a nonprofit association of state election officials.

Maine's voter registration patterns have changed little in the past 15 years, however. About 32 percent of voters are Democrats, 28 percent are Republicans and 37 percent are independent. A small number typically belong to alternative parties, such as the Green Independent Party.

Despite the registration numbers, however, there have been subtle changes in Maine voting patterns in recent years. That's because voters tend to lean toward one party or the other without changing their registration and joining the parties, Brewer said.

The state voted for the Democratic candidate in the last five presidential elections, for example. It had voted Republican in the five elections before that.

Brewer said the long-term Democratic voting trend is likely to continue, despite the election of Republican Gov. Paul LePage in 2010.

"The part of the state where the population is growing (the south and the coast) is the most Democratic part of the state," he said.

That Democratic voting pattern may be why national observers were quick to predict that Olympia Snowe's Senate seat would go to the Democrats this fall.

Mainers, however, were not about to be taken for granted.

"People didn't fully understand outside the state that it didn't necessarily mean a slam dunk for the Democratic Party," said John Baughman, associate professor of political science at Bates College.

"We had to wait and see whether an independent candidate came forward."

It also explains why King's entry into the race was followed by several top party candidates bowing out, and why King is now the focus of attention from both parties.

The Maine Republican Party issued a recent news release titled "Questions to Ask Angus" and focusing on King's former wind energy company, which is now connected to a federal investigation of federal loan guarantees.

One Democratic Senate candidate, state Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, started an online petition demanding that King tell voters which party he would caucus with if elected.

The Maine Democratic Party, meanwhile, sent a message to its members dismissing the anti-partisanship mood. It didn't mention the Senate race or any specific candidate.

"You are not a Democrat because someone tells you to be one, or because you are beholden to an organization, or because your career depends on it," Chairman Ben Grant wrote. "What the naysayers refuse to acknowledge is that political affiliation is just shorthand for a set of shared values."

State House Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@mainetoday.com

 

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