Thursday, December 5, 2013
A candidate for U.S. Senate may be dropping out of the race, but it's not the one everyone has been talking about.
It looks like Republican Charlie Summers is disappearing from the campaign trail before our eyes.
That's right. Charlie Summers, the guy who has all those friends in Washington running attack ads on independent Angus King and make-believe pro-Cynthia Dill ads. The handsome guy on TV who seems so nice and says so little.
Now, the Summers campaign is executing its most brilliant stroke yet. They're pulling Summers off the campaign trail and out of public view.
It's the classic front-runner move, except that Charlie isn't ahead and never has been. Somebody has got to tell his handlers that he's behind by anywhere from 4 to 22 points, depending on whom you ask. Nonetheless, Charlie has now withdrawn from public debates at Cape Elizabeth High School, the Maine Municipal Association, debates over women's policy, foreign policy and health care, and is trying to duck out of two chambers of commerce debates.
With 33 days left to catch Angus King, why in the world would Summers be hiding? Here are a few possibilities:
• Angus King makes Summers nervous.
In every upcoming debate, Angus is going to press Summers to move beyond sound bites and explain some of his newfound far-right positions.
That will not be good for Charlie.
Nobody knows policy issues as well as King, nor does anyone in that race have a fraction of his practical experience.
Taking him on, even if you know what you're talking about, means you have to be a sharp tack, which leads to this:
• Summers can't be trusted in debates.
The first few debates have produced some embarrassing gaffes for Summers.
Start with his position that no sources of energy should be subsidized and solar, wind and tidal power should all stand on their own two feet in the free market.
Does that mean the federal government should stop giving billions to oil and nuclear plants? No, he said, leaving the audience shaking their heads.
Summers followed that jaw-dropper with an even better one: Climate change is caused by volcanos.
Even the worst of the oil-funded climate scientists couldn't say that with a straight face.
• Charlie is hiding behind handlers and television ads.
Charlie has already spent months being a noncandidate while hiding behind those attack ads on King.
Then he brought in the head of the Maine Heritage Policy Center to run his campaign and do his talking for him.
In case you're wondering, they're the guys who brought you Paul LePage.
Then the Washington Super PAC sent him a special delivery package of national campaign operatives to put a force-field around him.
• They've found the LePage playbook. Two years ago the LePage campaign executed the same maneuver and it worked.
Worried that LePage was a little too loose-lipped on the campaign trail, his handlers pulled him from debates and forums in the critical final weeks of the campaign.
They just parked him somewhere out of sight, probably where those labor murals ended up.
Instead of debates and hand-shaking, the LePage campaign suddenly shrunk into television commercials and friendly rooms. By election day, thousands of people ended up voting for a guy they'd never heard speak.
The Summers campaign wants to ride out this campaign by relying entirely on the Super PACs to continue running attack ads on King and creating a Dill campaign where it wouldn't otherwise exist.
Here's Lance Dutson, the campaign manager for Summers, in a recent memo seeking more Super PAC funding:
"Currently, there are four different entities running television advertisements to benefit Charlie: the National Republican Senate Committee, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Maine Freedom PAC and our own campaign. The continued interest from third-party groups will keep the pressure on King, as Charlie continues to promote his positive messages and establish himself as the pro-business, pro-growth fiscal conservative in this race."
Apparently, allowing Charlie to continue to "promote his positive message" means letting his handlers and the Super PACs do the talking for him.
I wonder how that will work if he's elected to the Senate?
Voters have every right to begin asking: 'Where's Charlie?
Alan Caron is a lifelong Mainer, a pro-growth Democrat, an author of Reinventing Maine Government and a supporter of Angus King. He is also president of Envision Maine, a non-partisan organization working to promote Maine's next economy. He can be reached at: