Listen up, Libby. Pay attention, Paul. Lend us your ears, Eliot.

The endgame is upon us. Only four days remain in your campaigns for governor. A final televised debate is scheduled for Saturday night on WGME-TV — and we sincerely hope you can make it, Mr. LePage.

(Frankly, your decision to skip the debate at Bates College on Thursday night made good sense, according to one political veteran.)

Former Gov. Angus King, predecessor to the outgoing Gov. John Baldacci, has three pieces of advice for all of you.

First, enjoy yourself. Have fun. You’re still the center of attention. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” King said.

Second, leave no stone unturned.

“You don’t want to wake up the morning after, losing by 200 votes, and realize if you had just gone to that last barbecue on Sunday night you probably would have made it,” King said. “That was a big motivator for me in the last two weeks.”

Third, and probably most challenging, get some sleep. This campaign stuff is exhausting. The travel, the speeches, the questions, the debates, the handshakes might wear down an ultra-marathoner, nevermind a cast of candidates whose most-exercised muscle group involves the vocal cords.

King said he recently saw a photo of himself that was taken a few days after his first election. He appeared gaunt and haggard.

“I’ll bet I lost 10 to 15 pounds,” he said. “You don’t eat. You’re sort of running on nervous energy.”

Charlie Summers, who ran in two general elections for the U.S. House and worked on two more as an aide to Sen. Olympia Snowe, said the final days of a campaign are among the most important, particularly when there’s a high percentage of undecided voters.

During the morning and evening commutes, he said, you’re going to want supporters at every major intersection, waving signs and showing their enthusiasm. That works much better than glossy mailers, which immediately are tossed aside.

“Maine is still a state where people look very skeptically at people trying to buy elections,” Summers said. “They want to see the shoe leather and the elbow grease. You can’t take people’s support for granted, and you certainly can’t appear to take their support for granted. You’ve got to get out and work hard.”

So missing Thursday’s debate may not harm LePage a great deal, but missing the final two risks sending a message of complacency to voters, of avoiding scrutiny just when a significant slice of the populace is finally starting to pay close attention.

“Maine people sense it if you look like you’re coasting,” said Summers, vice chairman of the Maine Republican Party. “You want to show people that you want the job and that you’re serious about what you’re doing.”

Lee Umphrey, former press secretary for Baldacci, has been living in New York and working for educational foundations for the past five years. He still gets back to Maine regularly, and offers some specific advice for each of the three major candidates.

Polls have repeatedly shown LePage, the Republican mayor of Waterville, to be the front-runner. For him, Tuesday can’t come soon enough. His outbursts at reporters and President Obama have been well documented. He needs to maintain his composure and not worry about converting the undecided.

“Just try not to say or do anything that will cause people to pause,” Umphrey said. “And because his base is energized, he’s already got them.”

Democratic candidate Libby Mitchell, who has been trying for much of the campaign to convince voters that this is a two-candidate race between her and LePage, should go back to her strengths, Umphrey said.

“She has to emphasize her experience and her track record,” he said. “First woman (House) speaker. First woman Senate president. A champion for Democratic values. She needs to reassert that.”

Of the three independent candidates, Eliot Cutler has shown the most viability, picking up a raft of newspaper endorsements (including this one’s) but running third in most polls. He needs the undecided voters who might be turned off by the major parties, and must complete the case that his background (worldly and lawyerly) is preferable to the establishment (Mitchell) and the combative (LePage).

“Cutler needs to reassert his record,” Umphrey said. “That is, career experience translates to being a governor.”

This being football season, Umphrey offered a sports metaphor. “You’ve got two who need to go for it on fourth and goal, and one who needs to run out the clock,” he said. “This late in the game, they have to stick with what they think is the best thing and to reassure people, especially the undecideds, that you want somebody with experience at the State House (Mitchell), or you want somebody with global experience (Cutler) or you want a local businessman (LePage).”

As for Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott, the other independents, Umphrey said one of them has a future in politics. He said Moody comes across as a thoughtful guy with a nice personality.

“He’s not in that top-three category, but he’s acquitted himself well as somebody who appeals to Maine people,” Umphrey said. “But without the experience, it’s kind of hard for somebody like that to take a toehold.”

Now, about all those negative ads raining down on voters in the final days of the campaign: Just ignore them. The majority of voters will.

One more thing. The 1972 film “The Candidate” ends with Robert Redford’s character pulling aside his campaign manager after an improbable victory in a Senate race and saying, “What do we do now?”

Take a moment to consider that question, how you’ll want to take those first steps toward the Blaine House.

“The question of ‘What do we do now, if we win?’” Umphrey said. “They should all be thinking that, although they can’t appear presumptuous.”

So stop reading the paper. Get out there and wave those signs, shake more hands and, by all means, don’t forget that Sunday night barbecue.

 

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

[email protected]