November 30, 2012

Dan Demeritt: Baldacci best hope for Democrats in 2014 – and for LePage, too

A competitive, three-way race for governor – assuming Cutler runs, too – is the only kind of race LePage can win.

'Twas soon to be Christmas, in an even-numbered year; but the next general election already seemed near.

In the battle for governor the Dems promised a race with a bold nominee not doomed to third place.

Dems for this Christmas don't need sugarplums or Yahtzee, but instead must ask Santa for the return of Baldacci.

As my deadline approached I made a quick call, to ask John his plans for '14, in the fall.

Admittedly, I am no poet. Nor do I have a definitive answer on whether John Baldacci will be a candidate for governor in 2014. I can report, however, that Baldacci will strongly consider a run if Reps. Michael Michaud and Chellie Pingree pass on the campaign.

Perhaps the most gracious and genuine public servant Maine has ever seen, Baldacci's return to electoral politics solves several problems for Democrats. And I am convinced drafting Baldacci into the race is the Democrats' best hope for taking back the Blaine House.

Over the last two election cycles, the Democratic candidate for statewide office in Maine has finished a distant third. Party stalwarts want to end this pattern, prompting state party Chairman Ben Grant to promise "a serious, well-financed campaign" for governor in 2014.

A strong candidate is a prerequisite for such a campaign, and the Democrats simply don't have that candidate among their new generation of leadership. The same holds for Republicans and has nothing to do with talent or ambition.

Maine's system of government and elections does not provide an opportunity to groom aspirants for higher office.

Maine is one of the few states where all the top political offices in state government, other than the governor, are either appointed by the chief executive or elected by the Legislature. Those with power and prestige at the State House represent at most 40,000 people in a state Senate district and hold their leadership positions for only a few years because of term limits.

Consequently, the only way to get the experience and exposure needed to win high office in Maine is by running for high office in Maine. It is just too big an electoral leap for a challenger.

Democrats have two very viable gubernatorial candidates in Michaud and Pingree. Baldacci tells me that either candidate will have his support if he or she chooses to run, but I do not think they'll abandon extremely safe congressional seats to jump into a competitive three-way race for governor (assuming Eliot Cutler reprises his 2010 independent effort).

But, if either Michaud or Pingree does run for governor, it creates additional problems for Democrats. Many of their legislative leaders would leap into a primary created by the vacant congressional seat, fracturing caucus unity and diluting the hard work of retaining their recently restored majorities at the State House.

Baldacci is the right choice for Democrats, and everyone committed to returning a Democrat to the Blaine House should be happy to know he will consider a run.

What makes this election especially interesting is that my former colleagues on Gov. Paul LePage's team will be glad to hear the news as well.

Happy holidays, guys!

And if Cutler moves forward with his expected bid, Baldacci's emergence as a candidate increases the likelihood of a competitive, three-way race for governor. And that is the only kind of race LePage can win.

It is not so much a question of LePage's personal electability but the realities of political life in Maine. Republicans who fail to embrace the moderate politics and tone of Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins will never get a majority of the vote in our statewide elections.

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