Friday, May 24, 2013
Since the reapportionment of 1962, the member of Congress from Maine's 2nd Congressional District has never lost an election, a 50-year record of absolute electoral success that could be coming to an end this year, given the strength of this year's challenger, Republican state Senate President Kevin Raye.
Incumbent members of Congress typically enjoy huge advantages over their challengers in terms of name recognition, organization and the ability to raise money. With challengers starting out at a disadvantage on these three cornerstones of political success it is not surprising that the congressional re-election rate has never dipped below 85 percent in the last 50 years.
Gerrymandering -- the practice of manipulating political boundaries to provide an advantage for a particular party -- explains some of the success incumbents enjoy. There are some districts that so heavily favor one party that the real contest occurs in the primary.
But Maine's 2nd District -- a seat with a big partisan advantage for either side -- is not one of them.
Rep. Mike Michaud fits the historic mold. He is a dedicated and earnest public servant. He is likeable, works hard on constituent matters and has a history of cruising to big re-election victories. He also beat Raye by a 52 to 48 margin in 2002 to claim the seat.
But a lot has changed in the last 10 years, when Raye ran on his Washington experience as a top aide to Sen. Olympia Snowe.
Today Raye retains that Capitol Hill experience but has also established himself as a successful business owner and a public servant in his own right. Raye's impressive record of accomplishment in Augusta was capped by leading the Republicans to majority control in 2010 and serving as president of the Senate over the last two years.
Under Raye's leadership the Maine Legislature passed the largest tax cut in Maine history, enacted sweeping regulatory and health insurance reforms to spur job creation, and eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars in unfunded public pension liabilities. Raye also made a commitment to inclusive leadership on the budget that kept Democrats at the negotiation table and the state's books both balanced and gimmick free.
Raye accomplishments are tangible and present a very real opportunity for contrast with an incumbent who has earned a spot on Roll Call's list of America's 10 most obscure congressmen and a zero rating from the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
Polling published last week in this paper shows that support for Congressman Michaud is below 50 percent and he outpaces Raye by just 2 percentage points among voters who have definitely made up their mind. With 18 percent of the electorate still undecided, Raye has a strong shot at making the case for change.
And it is looking like he will have the resources to reach voters. Raye outraised Michaud in the most recent FEC reporting period $160,000 to $108,000. While Michaud still has a big cash-on-hand advantage, Raye is garnering national attention as a top-tier challenger that could lead to additional resources.
With Raye closing the gap on fundraising and plenty of undecided voters left to target it could come down to a question of organization. Michaud would have a huge advantage over a challenger from Perry, Maine, were it not for the legislative dominance Republicans enjoy in Maine's 2nd District.
Fifteen of the 19 state senators who live in the 2nd District are Republicans who served alongside Raye in Augusta. A similar advantage exists among House members, where 50 of the 75 representatives in the district are in the GOP.
Many of these lawmakers will knock on thousands of doors over the next few months as part of their own re-election campaigns. While it will take a great deal of coordination, these local campaigns could provide Raye with ready-made micro-organizations across the district.
Kevin Raye has crossed the threshold into political viability -- a standard many challengers never reach. He will have months to make his case and it will be an interesting race to watch.
Dan Demeritt can be contacted at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter.com @demerittdan