Quietly I opened the lid to my laptop and began writing. The polls had been closed for about an hour and the hundreds of supporters in the ballroom adjacent to the LePage-for-governor war room had grown eerily subdued.

Despite four public opinion polls over the final week of the campaign projecting a big win for Paul LePage, we were losing as the early results were reported. I had only written one election-night speech and it was looking like we would need another version.

A day that began with expectations of a near-landslide win for my candidate wound down with the words “Congratulations Gov.-elect Eliot Cutler,” scrawling across my screen.

The 10-plus point variance between the final polls and actual results of the 2010 gubernatorial election could lead one to question the validity of polling or the talents of specific pollsters. But there were half-truths and sentiments captured in those late polls that turned out to be spot-on accurate.

And that’s the lesson to be remembered as we consider the polling in the 2012 U.S. Senate campaign — trends and sentiments are what really matter at this point of the campaign.

As was the case in 2010, there is a lot going on underneath the “top line” — the projected vote totals — in the 2012 Senate race that needs to be examined.

According to polling released last week, former Gov. Angus King still enjoys a double-digit, top-line lead in the race to replace Olympia Snowe in the U.S. Senate.

While there are conflicting numbers from two pollsters, I tend to believe the Maine People’s Resource Center, or MPRC, has the more accurate findings. Over the last two years they have polled eight contests and, without fail, their findings among the published public polls have been closest to the actual results. They also included the lesser-known independents in their questioning.

MPRC puts the King lead at 15 points.

What is telling and potentially troubling for the King campaign are the overall trends and the sentiments being captured among voters in terms of King’s favorability.

Public Policy Polling, out last week with a poll that puts King’s advantage over Republican Secretary of State Charlie Summers at just 8 points, published favorability figures that suggest King’s popularity has taken a 21-point hit since June.

Given the $2 million of outside spending that has flooded the airwaves with quote-twisting and record-distorting assertions about King’s priorities and record, it is no wonder King’s standing with voters has diminished. What is surprising is how meekly King has hit back.

When I went to work for the Paul LePage campaign in September of 2010, he was a summertime front-runner who had damaged his campaign by saying too much.

Angus King has seen his lead shrink and his standing with voters fall because he is not aggressively defending his record as a governor and his accomplishments as a business leader. Put simply, the trends in the polls suggest he needs to stop dismissing the attacks and counter them.

There is a big difference.

Spending expansion in the King administration? Show me a family accessing critical health-care services because Medicaid was expanded or a business that has used the King-established Business Equipment Tax Rebate program to make job-creating investment in rural Maine.

Leaving office with a billion-dollar shortfall? Talk about the tough decisions it took to balance four biennial budgets and defy critics to identify a dollar of non-existent General Fund debt tied to the King administration. And use the forthcoming structural gap report from the LePage administration to draw a distinction between budget projections and actual debt.

The political connections and the sketchy wind deal? Tell the story of an entrepreneur who invested his own money in cutting-edge technology that would bring jobs and lower-cost energy to Maine.

A double-digit lead heading into October is the envy of every campaign. So too are a major party opponent who has been all but abandoned by her party and the presence of second-tier candidates who will pull votes from your Republican opponent.

No matter how you stack it up, this is still King’s race to lose. But the campaign could do a lot more to win.

Dan Demeritt can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @demerittdan


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