Maine Democrats took a shellacking on Election Day, losing the Blaine House, state Senate and second congressional district. It wasn’t for lack of money, organization or effort. Nor was it because of Eliot Cutler, bear baiting or the Republican wave.

Maine Democrats lost because voters weren’t buying what Democrats were selling, plain and simple.

Democrats recruited the candidates they wanted. They dominated the money race. Progressive groups, unions and environmental organizations were united and mobilized. And party luminaries from the President on down traveled here to offer their endorsements and star power.

Yet Paul LePage, our contentious and divisive governor, grew his support by 10 percent and won more total votes than any candidate for governor in more than 30 years. LePage not only dominated in Maine’s rural districts, he held his own in traditional Democratic strongholds like Saco and Biddeford and won in places like Lewiston and Jay. Exit polling shows that 16 percent of Democrats voted for LePage. (Think about that).

You cannot look at the electoral map without concluding that working-class voters lost faith with Democrats up and down the state, relegating them to the party of greater Portland, the gold coast and a smattering of inland communities.

This isn’t a matter of messaging. It’s a matter of policy… both the policies Democrats choose to advance, as well as their prioritization.


Sure, Cutler’s presence in the race can’t be dismissed. His broadsides weakened Mike Michaud, especially when the Congressman neither defended himself nor even acknowledged his attacker.

But the conventional wisdom that Cutler was a spoiler or that his supporters would break hard for Michaud were wrong. In the end, the governor didn’t need Cutler to win and likely could’ve cracked 50 percent without him.

Nor were Democrats the victim of a Republican wave. That may have energized some voters in the second congressional district where federal policies and, by extension, the President were “on the ballot,” but it’s clear Maine voters were deeply engaged and mobilized by the gubernatorial contest itself.

And yes, bear baiting turned out some conservative voters who might otherwise have stayed home, but fundamentally this election turned on economic issues, not bears.

And on those economic issues, Republicans – led by the governor – were strong and resonant while Democrats were weak and misdirected.

The governor ran on a platform of welfare reform, lower taxes and cheaper energy. Those issues tapped into voters’ deeply held economic anxiety and fears. The governor said in essence, “I will make sure that every dime of your hard earned tax dollars is spent efficiently, effectively and sparingly, going only to people and programs who need it.” It was a message of deep fidelity with working-class voters.


Democrats, by contrast, campaigned on raising the minimum wage, Medicaid expansion and renewable energy. Both individually and collectively these policies offered little hope or meaning for working-class voters while simultaneously affirming the worst “big government, greater spending” Democratic stereotype.

It’s not that these policies are wrong in vacuum. It’s that elections aren’t won in a vacuum. And in order to win, Democrats must offer policies that resonate with Maine’s broad swath of working-class voters, not merely the poor or the elite. And to do that, they must move beyond predictable party orthodoxy.

As a starting point, Democrats must stop demonizing economic success. Instead of tritely attacking “millions and billionaires” (few of whom actually live in Maine), let’s affirm our desire to see all residents ascend the economic ladder; let’s forcibly articulate our aspiration to create jobs that offer a living wage or better; and let’s commit ourselves to policies that help produce the conditions for new investment, entrepreneurship, innovation and, yes, wealth creation.

Let’s recognize that renewables and efficiency are important, but that – by themselves – can’t power our economy. There are Maine paper mills shutting down for lack of access to natural gas and Democrats are campaigning on wind and solar. It smacks of disconnected, ivory tower, Portland-centric elitism, especially in towns like Bucksport where jobs are disappearing by the hundreds.

Instead, let’s affirm our commitment to renewables and then acknowledge that Maine people and businesses need access to cheap natural gas. Sure, it’s a bridge fuel, but it’s a bridge with a very long span. Growing jobs and the economy requires our accessing it.

The truth is, Michaud never offered moderate Democrats, unenrolleds or even disaffected Republicans with any reason to give him a second look. He was plucked from the second CD, put in a Portland Democratic box, branded as “likeable” and told to offer milquetoast policies on energy, education, the economy and other issues.


It wasn’t enough. Nor should it have been.

Maine Democrats can offer any excuses for why we lost. But the most obvious reason is that the governor’s policies offered greater hope and opportunity for Maine’s working class voters.

LePage out mill-workered the mill worker. Shame on us.

Michael Cuzzi is a former campaign aide to President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and Congressman Tom Allen. He manages the Boston and Portland offices of VOX Global, a strategic communications and public affairs firm headquartered in Washington. He can be reached at:

[email protected]


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