If we didn’t know it before, we know it now: The Portland mayoral race is like no election we’ve seen.
The proof, as if we needed some, came Monday when one of the 15 candidates vying to become Portland’s first elected mayor in nearly a century, John Eder, endorsed one of his opponents, Ethan Strimling – but continued to campaign for the office.

In a typical election, this would be considered an odd if not bizarre and befuddling strategy. As a rule, an active candidate would drop out of the race before endorsing an opponent. In the Republican presidential race, for example, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty threw in the towel after a poor performance in the Iowa straw poll and then tossed his support to ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Had Pawlenty endorsed Romney before dropping out of the race, friends and enemies alike surely would have suggested that he seek immediate psychiatric counseling. It’s one thing for someone seeking public office to be a good sport and acknowledge the qualifications of those he’s running against; but we can’t think of a single candidate at any level of elective politics who’s handed out bumper stickers saying, “Vote for the other guy.”

But, as we said, this is no ordinary election.

When Portland voters go to the polls on Nov. 8, they will be faced not only with a ballot featuring an eye-popping 15 names but also with a process called ranked-choice voting.

Under this system, being used for the first time in Portland – or anywhere in Maine, as far as we know – voters can cast a vote for as many of the 15 candidates as they care to, ranking them in order of preference. Much has been said and written about how this might play out when the votes are counted, and we have no interest whatsoever in joining the analysis parade.

We will be quite content to let the experts tally the votes and tell us who won once the process is completed.

Meanwhile, it’s fascinating to see how candidates go about campaigning and how interested parties in the community react to it.

Endorsements have been forthcoming from institutions, organizations, individuals and various interest groups, some endorsing a single candidate – as we did last month – and some ranking their favorites in preferential order.

Eder’s decision to endorse one of his opponents while continuing his own pursuit of the mayor’s office no doubt struck electoral traditionalists – count us among these – as strange. But a ranked-choice voting expert told Press Herald reporter Jason Singer that it wasn’t strange in the least.

Terry Bouricius, a former policy analyst for a Maryland nonprofit group that studies such things, said candidates frequently form alliances in ranked-choice elections with large fields.

“Quite frankly, it’s logical for candidates – if they really care for the city – to promote candidates who are politically and ideologically like them,” Bouricius said. “These joint press events, where they say, ‘If you like me, rank me first and him second, and if you like him, rank him first and me second,’ make perfect sense.”

Eder and Strimling held such an event and more or less liked the heck out of each other. Eder said that he and Strimling “represent a new guard fighting against the status quo.”
“We need new leadership,” he said.

Strimling, for his part, described the key plank of Eder’s platform – tax breaks to encourage construction of affordable housing in the Bayside neighborhood – as “a great idea.”

Voters who hate the negativity and name-calling that mars so many election campaigns these days must be eating this up. Candidates seeking the same office saying nice things about each other? Is it too late to institute ranked-choice voting for the presidential campaign?

Eder predicted that more candidates will endorse opponents in the closing days of the campaign.
And why not? One possible path to success in a ranked-choice election, most analysts agree, is for candidates to rack up second-place and third-place votes from folks who like another candidate better. It’s one of those rare occasions when being someone’s second choice can be a good thing.

So, in an election like no other we’ve experienced, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the candidates reach for the finish line – arm in arm with an opponent or two, or battling on their own to the not-so-bitter end.

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