January 30, 2013

Greg Kesich: Forget the two Maines, we'll have at least three until 2014

The candidates are already lining up and they think they have a strong path to victory in the next election.

We've all heard about the two Maines but it looks like there are really three Maines, not two, and they are shaping up to be the sides of a tight three-way race for governor, which, apparently, is already under way.

The new Maines are LePage-istan, Cutlertopia and Democrat-to-be-named-later-land, and they are all led by people who think they can run the whole thing.

The next election is nearly two years away and a lot can happen between now and then. In January 2009, few Mainers had ever heard the name Paul LePage (those were the days, huh?) so it would be a waste of time to try to guess what's going to happen in November 2014.

But the different vision each of the three Maines holds will have a big impact on things that are happening right now and how the parties behave themselves over the next 22 months or so. So regardless of where we line up, we all ought to take a minute and look at how each Maine looks at the future.

LePage-istan could be a gloomy place, but it's not. It's true that a lot of people don't like the governor -- somewhere in the range of 60 percent in polls conducted from since June 2010. But that's OK, because the governor doesn't like those people either.

They are a bunch of big-spending liberals who want to take the state back to where he found it when he took office in 2011 and he doesn't have to win any of them over to get re-elected.

All he has to do is keep talking to his base, the solid 40 percent or so that has stayed with him over the last two years (43 percent in March 2011, 40 percent in June 2012, 39 percent last September and 34 percent to 37 percent in a PPP poll just this month.)

LePage supporters don't blame him for the state's poor economic performance. They don't think less of him when he says things that governors don't usually say. They don't mind seeing him criticized on the editorial page because that just reinforces their belief that the elites are out to get him.

Of course 38 percent doesn't win any elections, at least not two-way ones. But this is Maine. We may never see another two-way race.

Cutler has all but announced already and the PPP poll shows LePage winning any three-way election that involves Cutler.

The message to the governor is keep your 40 percent happy and don't bother trying to attract any new voters by compromising with the Democrats in the Legislature. If the 60 percent splits like last time, you've got four more years in the Blaine House.

If you live in Cutlertopia, things look a little different.

Your guy almost won last time, and that was before LePage went to war with schools, high-tech entrepreneurs, wind power developers, municipal property tax payers, believers in civil discourse and other people who might have voted Republican in 2010.

All the Cutlertopians have to do is figure out who likes the governor and his agenda and who just likes his agenda. Cutler told Bill Nemitz that he thinks the governor has a "hard ceiling" of 39 percent and a floor of 30 percent, below which he cannot go.

Cutler needs only to scoop a few of the governor's voters and build a coaliton with his own suppporters and the panicked Democrats who are looking for the quickest ticket out of LePagistan, and he wins.

And if the governor and Legislature have a tumultuous two years, with a possible shut down of state government in the middle, it makes the case for an above-the-fray independent.

In the days after the 2012 election, the 2014 path to victory was clear in Democrat-to-be-named-later-land.

Democrats had run a smart, well-funded campaign that took back both houses of the Legislature.

They said they had learned their lesson and they would not allow 2010 to be repeated. The party would coalesce quickly around an as-yet unknown candidate and avoid a multi-candidate primary where two percent of the voting public picks their nominee.

The Democrats believe their candidate would have as fired-up a base as LePage and hold on to the people who abandonned Libby Mitchell and cast anti-LePage votes for Cutler in 2010.

The key to this strategy would be using control of the Legislature to pass policies that make life better for middle class families and work around the governor by cutting deals with Republicans in the Legislature.

So, three camps, three paths to victory. Don't expect anyone to graciously step out of the way or give the other guys something to run on. We're going to find out what Maine we live in.

 

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at 791-6481, or:

gkesich@pressherald.com

 

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