July 18, 2012

Q&A: Summers' inside pitchman

Lance Dutson, former head of the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center, has quickly moved from outsider to insider. Now he's managing his first political campaign, for Maine's GOP U.S. Senate candidate, Charlie Summers.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Few states would offer the chance for the rapid political career ascension that Lance Dutson has experienced in Maine.

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Lance Dutson, campaign manager for U.S. Senate candidate Charlie Summers: “In Maine, I figured that all you need to do is start a blog, be a little sarcastic, stick to your guns and you can become a voice.”

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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It wasn't long ago that Dutson was well outside the Maine political world and light years from his current job, the campaign manager for Charlie Summers, Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate.

In 2006, he was immersed in the world of search engine optimization, which he used to increase exposure for his clients in the tourism business. That's when Dutson's interests ran square into those of the Maine Office of Tourism and its out-of-state ad agency.

Dutson used his blog, Maine Web Report, to fight what he deemed as impropriety or incompetence at the state agency. His dogged and sharply-written critiques led the tourism office's ad agency to sue him.

The firm eventually dropped the suit. Dutson, whose efforts had been championed in conservative circles and the blogging world, became something of a folk hero for taking on a government entity.

Dutson says the experience also afforded him a peek inside the inner workings of Maine politics. The door opened further in 2007 when he joined Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins' re-election campaign as the new media director. He later helped the campaign to elect former N.H. Republican Attorney General Kelly Ayotte to the U.S. Senate. In 2010 he became communications director for the Maine Republican Party and briefly held a similar role for House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, after the GOP rode the election wave to power.

Last summer Dutson took the reins of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, the state's most influential conservative advocacy group. Dutson quickly put his stamp on the policy center when he launched The Maine Wire, a news service based on a model developed by conservative activist Andrew Breitbart and, in many ways, reminiscent of Dutson's Maine Web Report.

Now Dutson is running his first political campaign. He sat down with the Portland Press Herald for a few minutes to talk about his recent career move and Summers' chances of winning.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your start in Maine politics?

A: Without recounting that whole (Maine Tourism Office) story: I ended up having a strange step into the political world by seeing how easy it was, especially in Maine, to step out and really take a stand on something. Maine people really pay attention. That's one of the greatest thing about this state. Someone working in the political world of New York State or California, or something like that, would have more ... gatekeepers in the way of actually being able to impact issues. In Maine, I figured that all you need to do is start a blog, be a little sarcastic, stick to your guns and you can become a voice.

Q: Were you political before your blog and the run-in with the Maine Tourism Office?

A: I've always been interested in politics since I was a kid, but I'd never been engaged in the political process. I was just kind of an armchair quarterback and just watched "Meet the Press." My dad used to make fun of me because I'd watch "The McLaughlin Group" when I was like 12 or something like that.

I was interested in politics in school from a historical perspective. I like writing and the whole communications field, writing for impact. The blogging thing was kind of like that.

(Continued on page 2)

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