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

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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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Q: It seems like quite a career trajectory in a short period of time.

A: It has been. I mean, leaving MHPC to come here was a tough decision. MHPC is a great organization and they'll be a greater organization going forward. But you don't often have the opportunity to impact the course of the country -- not that my day-to-day stuff is going to do that directly -- but the outcome of the race could swing the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. If this thing splits and Maine elects or holds this Republican seat, that's an amazing opportunity to have.

Q: This is your first time running a campaign. Have you received any outside help?

A: Sen. Collins' team has been extremely helpful to us so far. Political campaign people are kind of like carnies, we all float around every two years. So there's kind of a confederacy of background people that create a knowledge base and support structure.

Q: Can you talk about some of the responsibilities you have?

A: There's just so many factors. Today there will decisions made about who sits in a fire truck in the Moxie Day Parade ... where the helium is for the balloons, what we're going to say in response to press inquiries. Hiring decisions, budget decisions, fundraising decisions.

The key part of it is getting good people around you. It's hard to judge money in a race that's four months long, but we'll end up with about $1 million in expenditures out of this office in 118 days. It's like building a big company that disappears on Election Day.

Q: You mentioned that Angus King's lead is based largely on his popularity and name recognition. What opportunities does that leave the campaign to close that gap?

A: I think people tend to picture Angus King as a former governor during times when the economy was better is the residual memory that people have of him. The opportunity for us here is to press the discussion of actual issues and the steps that are needed to get the economy back on track.

So far we've heard Angus talk about filibuster reform and the idiosyncrasies of Senate and government procedure, but I have yet to hear anything from him about how him being in the U.S. Senate is going to improve the lives of the average Mainer.

... That's the opportunity that we have. So far we've seen very broad support for Angus, but very thin support as well. Once we get down to those issues I think that's an opportunity for us.

Q: (Summers') primary campaign seemed to be pretty positive in tone. Does that have to change in order to chip away at King's popularity?

A: I don't think so. We're intending to keep the positive campaign going. I think the natural contrast that always has to happen during an election between opponents comes in the vetting of the issues.

When we start talking about specific steps about getting people back to work, Angus is going to have to engage on that. That's not a symptom of negative campaigning or attacking, it's just going to be a contrast.

Q: This new job seems like it could be a great opportunity for you personally, especially if the campaign can win in November, or even just close gap.

A: Yeah, it's an uphill battle, but it's one of those things where the journey and destination are both really important. Politics is like playing a board game sometimes. The pace of it.

There's kind of a Special Forces feeling you get sometimes when you're sitting in a crappy office like this, you know, with the things piled up everywhere, but also having the work be more meaningful than your surroundings.

State House Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:


Twitter: stevemistler

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