Three independent candidates for governor have qualified for the general election this November. They soon will be joined by one of four Democrats and one of seven Republicans who are running in the June 8 primaries.

Given the size of the primary field in each party, there is no consensus about who will win.

According to historic voter turnouts, as few as 25,000 votes could win the Democratic nomination. In the seven-person Republican field, the winner could capture the nomination with as few as 12,000 votes.

While personal loyalty will constitute each candidate’s base of support, news coverage, TV ads and mailings will shape the perceptions of the much larger group of undecided voters.

But who are the voters looking for? According to Clotaire Rapaille, they are looking for Moses, a figure who will lead us to the Promised Land. Moses, wrote Rapaille, “made his people believe they could do the impossible.”

A cultural anthropologist, Rapaille in 2006 wrote “The Culture Code.” In it, he dissects the underlying emotions, hopes and expectations that move people to take action and gravitate toward products or personalities.

Though he specializes in advising Fortune 100 companies, he also has been retained by presidential campaigns to decipher the mood of the country and the messages that engage the voters.

He does not suggest that candidates can shape themselves into something they are not, but rather that they must project aspects of their innate character more effectively than their opponents.

It’s a personality contest.

In studying presidential elections, Rapaille said the most reptilian candidate, not the cerebral one, almost always wins. The person with core instincts who is seen as adapting to change in a wild environment will beat the thoughtful, deliberative person who appeals to our reason. He noted that our newly emancipated nation chose George Washington as “Rebel-in-Chief,” who led the colonies to their Promised Land.

The author also describes America as an adolescent culture. Rebelling against authority, convention or the status quo is right on code for an American leader.

“Bill Clinton was a Washington outsider with decided adolescent tendencies. Ronald Reagan challenged us to re-create America’s greatness by leading a ‘rebellion’ to restore tradition. Franklin Roosevelt rebelled against the Depression with the adolescent cry, ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ “

Now, think about Barack Obama’s insurgency. Here was an upstart candidate whose message of hope and change overcame Hillary Clinton’s close proximity to the Washington establishment. He then led the rebellion against eight years of George W. Bush as he successfully tagged John McCain as simply more of the same, a Washington insider.

If Rapaille is correct, Maine’s gubernatorial primaries may be less of a guessing game than many believe.

Candidates who are perceived as being part of the status quo and technically competent may fall to those from outside Augusta who embody hopeful but head-cracking personalities. The candidates who can make us believe they are agents of change may likely out-poll those who are touting their executive experience or long tenure in state government.

And with no sitting member of Congress in the race (e.g. Reps. Baldacci and McKernan) leveraging their strong brand recognition into a term in the Blaine House, voters will have an emotional response and likely display a greater appetite for taking a risk.

For Maine’s legislative candidates, the same dynamics may also apply.

Forty-nine percent of the state’s voters think Maine is headed in the wrong direction and 21 percent are undecided.

Incumbents who are part of the problem may suffer defeat if their opponents effectively contrast themselves as rebels unsatisfied with convention and prepared to shake it up in Augusta. Rightfully, the status quo is on trial.

Before Moses gathered his tribe to proceed to the Promised Land, he was given guidance in the form of simple truths that span religions and cultures. It informed his decisions and called him to action.

In a matter of weeks, Envision Maine will release a report titled “Reinventing Government.” As one of many advisers to this group, I know it could easily be the playbook for leading a rebellion against the status quo of state and local government.

It will not be carved in stone nor will it have 10 commandments. However, it may help voters decide who among the finalists in the general election will be called Gov., Sen. or Rep. Moses.

Tony Payne is executive director of the Alliance for Maine’s Future, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that focuses on the effects of public policy on the state’s economy. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]


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