October 31, 2010

Richard L. Connor:
Undecided voters, who hold this election in their hands, should trust their gut

Last Tuesday night, I stood in a kitchen in Brewer, in the home of a woman I think of as my second mother.

She had come into our family while my father was away in World War II to help my mother, a full-time librarian at a time when a working mother was a rarity.

I spent so much time with her, probably in part because I was the youngest of three boys, that I used to tell my friends I had two mothers. She has been a pervasive and lasting influence on my life.

One of her most admirable traits is her steadfastness in adhering to values and principles. When she casts her lot with a group, when she offers her loyalty, she means it. In politics, for instance, the Democrats can always count on her -- well, almost always, it now seems.

Now 86 and closing in on 87 with a birthday in December, she lived with my family from the time she was a teenager until she married in her 30s. She met her husband through the local Democratic Party, which in those days was the political touchstone for many Maine families, including mine.

They had four children. You could argue that a family was built in Brewer because of local partisan politics.

Driving back from Washington County, where I spent a couple of days trying to clear my head from the surround-sound anger and noise of this political season, I veered onto Chamberlain Street in Brewer to visit the woman who helped raise me.

It was late and I wanted to get back to Portland, but I knew I could not pass so close to her house without stopping to say hello.

It seemed only natural to talk politics.

"Who are you voting for in the governor's race?" I asked.

"Don't know," she said. "Still deciding."

Sitting next to her in the fading light of a fall afternoon was her 20-something granddaughter, a sophomore psychology major at the University of Maine who chimed in to say that she, too, was uncertain about her vote for governor.

Astonishing.

My guess is that you would not need all the fingers on one hand to count the number of times this woman or anyone in her family has voted for a non-Democrat.

Her family is one of those that encourages stereotyping. Irish. Catholic. Firemen. Policemen.

In my younger days, all of these words added up to "Democrat."

These two people, generations apart, epitomize the ambivalence and confusion that have dominated this year's politics in general and Maine's gubernatorial election in particular.

Recent polls show Republican Paul LePage consistently running first among the five candidates for governor. At least two polls show independent Eliot Cutler pulling ahead of Democrat Libby Mitchell and two others show him tied with Mitchell for second place. Most show Cutler steadily gaining ground as the field enters the homestretch. Independents Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott have made little headway with voters.

It's not surprising that LePage, mayor of Waterville and a fervent advocate of smaller government and fiscal responsibility, would have a foothold in an election year when voters in Maine and elsewhere are impatient with big government and high taxes.

As president of the state Senate, Mitchell has significant statewide name recognition and a loyal following within her party. But Cutler, offering himself as the moderate alternative to conservative LePage and liberal Mitchell, has targeted independents and undecideds, and he appears to be making dramatic progress in his effort to win support from those voters and others -- enough progress that some political insiders believe he can pull off a stunning come-from-behind victory in the campaign's final days.

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