Politics

November 1, 2012

Three long shots have low profiles, lofty ambitions in U.S. Senate race

Intriguing backgrounds add heft to their determination to battle waste, excess and incompetence in government.

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The three leading candidates in Maine's U.S. Senate race have had their share of media attention, and then some.

click image to enlarge

U.S. Senate candidates Steve Woods, left, Danny Dalton, center, and Andrew Ian Dodge.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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These file photos show Maine candidates for U.S. Senate in the November 2012 general election. Top row left to right: independent Danny Dalton, independent Andrew Ian Dodge and Democrat Cynthia Dill. Bottom row left to right: independent Angus King, Republican Charlie Summers and independent Steve Woods.

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Mainers may even be relieved to see car dealers and personal injury lawyers take back the television ads after Election Day.

However, there are three other candidates, and you may have barely heard of them. Unlike Angus King, Charlie Summers and Cynthia Dill, the three men haven't mounted high-profile campaigns or raised money for television ads, and none has a realistic chance of winning or even shaking up next week's election.

But they may be the most intriguing candidates in the race.

There's Andrew Ian Dodge, a renegade former Republican and libertarian tea partier who espouses smaller government and rarely passes up a chance to criticize the leaders of his former party.

There's Danny Dalton, a former federal agent with a top secret clearance who tracked down terrorists and drug smugglers in places like Afghanistan and El Salvador and now is on a mission to expose dysfunction in the federal agencies that employed him.

And there's Steve Woods, a successful and self-assured businessman who, despite his own support for the front-runner King, is frustrated about a process that he says produces incompetent leaders and relegates a qualified candidate like him to the "kid's table."

All three men gathered the 4,000 signatures they needed to qualify for the ballot and are running as independents to replace outgoing Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe. And that's about all they appear to have in common.

'LOOKING FOR A VOICE'

Dodge, 44, was a Republican when he first entered the Senate race.

He had emerged as an articulate, unofficial spokesman for the tea party movement in Maine, and he intended to use his Senate candidacy to call out the Republican establishment and Sen. Snowe for neglecting conservative and libertarian-minded voters like himself.

Two events changed the plan.

First, Maine's Republican leaders bungled the presidential caucuses in February and alienated supporters of presidential candidate Ron Paul. Dodge was so angry that he quit the party and became an independent.

A week later, Snowe announced that she would retire.

Dodge stayed in the race and became the standard bearer for Maine's libertarian movement, determined as ever to call out the Republican establishment and push for a smaller, less intrusive federal government.

"My job hasn't changed," he said recently. "There are a lot of people of my ilk who are looking for a voice, and I'm giving them a voice."

Dodge, a freelance writer from Harpswell, said his departure from the Republican Party means he no longer has to answer for his long hair, earring and trademark black suits. "It's liberating," he said.

Dodge has a degree from Colby College and a post-graduate degree in legislative politics from the University of Hull in the United Kingdom. While in England, he worked for a conservative think tank with ties to Margaret Thatcher.

He represents the intellectual side, rather than the angry side, of the tea party movement. In fact, Dodge is one of the most affable candidates in Maine's Senate race.

He doesn't complain about the media coverage or lack of it, and he even thinks King did him and the other candidates a favor by getting into the race.

"I disagree with him politically, but I like him as a person. He also brings a certain amount of attention that you wouldn't normally get," Dodge said. "He's sort of the water that lifts all boats."

Seth Baker of Waterville said he was drawn to Ron Paul's libertarian ideas and started following Dodge on Twitter during the mishandled Maine caucuses. Baker, who also felt dismissed by the Republican establishment, is now a Dodge supporter and volunteer.

"He was calling out the state Republican establishment ... for exactly what I saw with my own two eyes," Baker said. "He's not a smooth operator. If you ask (Dodge) a point blank question, he gives you a point blank answer."

Dodge hopes to surprise political observers with stronger-than-expected support from disaffected Paul supporters and libertarians. Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson has endorsed him.

No matter the outcome, Dodge said he is energized by politics and has enjoyed watching the unusual Senate race from the inside.

"I wake up every day and say, 'What the hell is going to happen today?" he said. "How often do you have the Republicans buying TV ads for the Democrat, the national Democratic Party not helping their nominee and indirectly helping the independent? ... I've never seen a campaign this bizarre."

'TO GET THESE ISSUES ON THE TABLE'

Dalton, 56, is a former intelligence specialist with the Army and Air Force who went on to travel the world as a federal agent and civilian contractor chasing down terrorists and drug smugglers.

He might still be protecting national security if he hadn't finally got fed up with what he describes as waste and dysfunction within the agencies that are supposed to be keeping us safe.

Dalton now lives in Brunswick and is the deceptively mild-mannered owner of a shop in Bath called The Sea Hag. He uses the store to help run a toy manufacturing business that he shares with his brother.

But Dalton can't leave his former career behind, which is why he decided to run for the U.S. Senate.

He tells long, detailed stories about having tracked down Taliban commanders in Afghanistan and drug smugglers in Pakistan and El Salvador, only to see federal agencies fail to act.

He was a Drug Enforcement Administration agent and an employee of Blackwater, a private security company that Iraqis ordered out of the country after an incident in 2007 left 17 civilians dead.

After Dalton left the security business, he continued to gather intelligence from his old contacts, at his own expense. When he tried to share the information with the federal government -- including the specific location of Taliban commanders -- he again got nowhere, he said.

Eventually, Dalton said, he tried to share some of his information and complaints with Maine's senators, Snowe and Susan Collins. He met with their staff members but said his leads and complaints still went nowhere.

"You should be at least paying attention to your constituents who have a background in those areas," Dalton said.

He decided to run against Snowe as a way to expose the waste and dysfunction and the failure of the two-party system.

"The two parties are the real problem when it comes to this. The senators' role is to confirm responsible leadership to run these agencies," Dalton said.

Richard Doyle, a friend of Dalton's who lives in Pennsylvania, worked as a contractor on some of the same anti-drug cases and said Dalton has good reason to be so determined.

"If I weren't involved in it, I would never have believed it. It's a waste of money and they don't want to do a thing," Doyle said. "He just kept bumping his head."

The Senate campaign hasn't provided exactly the kind of platform or results Dalton was hoping to get. He has a hard time laying out the case against the DEA during candidate forums that are more focused on issues such as job creation and the Affordable Care Act.

But Dalton, who has an MBA, has rounded out his campaign with opinions that go well beyond law enforcement. He says money is a core problem in politics, for example, and has refused to take any campaign contributions. And he favors tax reform to help bring jobs back from overseas, among other things.

Dalton thinks that running for Senate was the right decision, though the campaign has been frustrating at times.

"It's always worthwhile to do your best to try to get these issues on the table," he said.

He said the recent attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, is one more example of the dysfunction he witnessed in his former career.

"This wasn't a problem because of the Obama administration," he said. "These are systemic problems that have been going on from party to party and from election to election."

'WE OWN THIS DEMOCRACY'

Woods, 53, is the owner of TideSmart Global, a group of six marketing companies based in Falmouth.

He also is chairman of the Yarmouth Town Council, a part-owner of the Maine Red Claws basketball team and the host of a radio talk show (Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WLOB-AM).

Woods' career began right after high school, when he became road manager for the Amazing Kreskin, a famous mentalist who performed around the world. He went on to be an agent for professional athletes and president of Pierce Promotions, a Portland-based event marketing firm.

In 2003, he started his own experiential marketing companies, which produce live events such as product sampling booths and mobile health screenings for such clients as Lindt, Chevron and the U.S. Tennis Association.

One of Woods' companies, for example, operates the truck and tour accompanying celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, a traveling nutrition campaign and reality television show.

TideSmart employs nearly 100 people, and the size and success of his company is something Woods emphasizes at every opportunity during campaign appearances.

"Despite what every other candidate says, none of them have companies that hire people. None of them are involved with small business. I own six small businesses," he said.

A big man with a big personality and a big ego, Woods can be a show-stealer in candidate forums. He is both funny and cutting, usually at the expense of the Republican in the race, Charlie Summers.

He complained publicly about being ignored by the media during the campaign, and warned privately that critical coverage could hurt his business.

His fate as one of "the lesser-known candidates" may have been sealed when former Gov. King jumped into the race and stole his wind as the independent candidate running against partisan gridlock.

In fact, Woods formally endorsed King early in the campaign, but nevertheless continued to run.

Woods said he has stayed in the race partly because he enjoys running the campaign with his 13-year-old daughter, whom Woods introduces as his campaign manager.

But Woods, who is known for having a lot to say, still has a point to make. If Americans aren't happy with do-nothing politicians in Washington, he says, they have only themselves to blame, for electing people who look good or sound good but are not competent.

"We the voters, the citizens of the country, we own this democracy," he said. "I think it's ridiculous for us to solely blame the politicians or the government. ... It's about selecting people at every level (of government) who are competent to do a very challenging, very complex job."

Woods has clearly proven himself competent in the business world.

"He is a very smart guy," said Wendy Ayotte, an executive at Casco Bay Ford and leader of the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce, who has supported Woods' campaign because of his diverse business experience. "No matter what area you are in, he has a connection."

Fellow Yarmouth Town Councilor Leslie Hyde said Woods is respected in town government for his smarts and his leadership.

"He's a self-made, extremely successful guy and he's very personable and very articulate," she said.

Woods sometimes uses 50 words when he could use three, she said, but he also listens and is willing to change his mind. "He genuinely cares what's best for the town."

Woods would not say if he will use his experience as a Senate candidate to launch any more campaigns for office.

"It's been one of the most enriching experiences in my life," he said. "It's also been one of the most frustrating."

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@pressherald.com

 

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