September 15, 2010

To back Democrats, Clinton bringing his clout to Maine

Experts link next week's visit to his long ties with candidate Libby Mitchell.

By Matt Wickenheiser
Staff Writer

Former President Bill Clinton will visit Maine on Sept. 26 to rally the Democratic base for November's elections.

Bill Clinton
click image to enlarge

Former President Bill Clinton is viewed as his party’s political “big gun.”


Bill Clinton
click image to enlarge

Former President Bill Clinton stumps Tuesday in Cleveland for Ohio Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. Next week in Maine, he’ll share the stage with U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and ChelliePingree, who are seeking re-election, and Libby Mitchell, Democratic nominee for governor.

The Associated Press

Clinton, who was president from 1993 to 2001 and remains a big draw for Democrats, will speak in South Portland that evening, according to three party sources who asked not to be named.

The free rally will be billed as a Maine Democratic Party event. Clinton will share the stage with U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, who are seeking re-election, and Libby Mitchell, the Democratic nominee for governor.

Sources said Clinton's visit can be attributed to his long relationship with Mitchell and her family.

As president, Clinton appointed Mitchell as the first female chair of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston. In 2008, when Hillary Rodham Clinton ran for president, Mitchell and Bill Clinton campaigned for her in Portland. And this year, before Maine's primaries in June, Bill Clinton put out a fundraising appeal for Mitchell, helping her raise the seed money she needed to qualify for public campaign funds.

The former president is the Democratic Party's big gun these days, political scientists said, and the only reason he would come to Maine is his history with Mitchell.

"If it weren't for that personal relationship, they probably wouldn't even get a 'gun' that big," said Brian Duff, a political scientist at the University of New England. "Right now, this doesn't look like a state where the Democrats have a great chance to win the governor's house."

Mitchell has trailed her Republican opponent in the polls. According to the latest poll, taken in the first week of September, Republican Paul LePage is leading the five-person race with 43 percent support, Mitchell has 29 percent and independent Eliot Cutler has 11 percent. Independent Shawn Moody earned 5 percent and independent Kevin Scott got 1 percent, according to Public Policy Polling.

Duff said this is a moment when Mitchell could turn the campaign around. President Obama is ratcheting up the rhetoric, with November's mid-term elections looking painful for his party. Most people didn't pay attention to Maine's gubernatorial election until after Labor Day, said Duff, and Clinton's visit may give Mitchell's campaign momentum.

"Clinton is a great way to remind people that there's plenty they did not like about the eight years the Republicans were running things on a nationwide level," said Duff. "People are very dissatisfied with the status quo, but it doesn't take much to remind them how we got to the status quo."

It helps any candidate to bring in a national name, said Mark Brewer, a political scientist at the University of Maine. Brewer said the most popular Democrat now is Bill Clinton.

"He's now warmly viewed as this elder statesmen," Brewer said. "A lot of voters see him positively. I bet a lot of Americans think back to the mid-1990s and think 'I'll take that.'"

Brewer said Clinton supported Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln before the primaries in that state – where Clinton was governor – and she won a tough fight. He has been back in the state recently, stumping for her.

Brewer said Clinton's visit is a plus all the way around for Mitchell. Mainers who don't like Clinton wouldn't vote for Mitchell anyway, he said, and Clinton is a heavily partisan figure who could rally unenrolled voters to Mitchell, as well as "some Democrats who were toying with Eliot Cutler."

It was unclear Tuesday how many people will be able to attend the rally, a source said, but priority will be given to people who have been working on campaigns, "as a way for the Democratic Party to rile up volunteers."

Clinton isn't the first big name to visit Maine in hopes of influencing the state's politics. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani held an event last week for Dean Scontras, the Republican who is trying to unseat Pingree in Maine's 1st Congressional District.

Brewer said he wouldn't be surprised to see other high-profile political figures visit, particularly from the GOP. Maine may see "not some traditional Republicans, maybe some tea party types for Paul LePage," Brewer said.

"Are we going to see a Sarah Palin here? I don't know. Are we going to see a Jim DeMint (the Republican senator from South Carolina)? Maybe," said Brewer.

Sources said an official announcement on Clinton's visit is expected this week.


Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:


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