Now that the deadline for candidates to turn in their signatures has come and gone, we know who will be on the June ballot for the party primaries.

That means the first phase of the campaign, or what I like to call the Everybody Is Running phase, is officially over. It’s easy enough to say you’re running for governor, or Congress, but actually getting out there and getting a couple thousand signatures is a huge hurdle for many candidates. This is especially true for political newcomers without the financial wherewithal to immediately establish an organization, or the grassroots support to mobilize enough volunteers to help them.

Republicans will have a five-way primary, while Democrats will have eight candidates on the ballot. None of the Green or Libertarian candidates qualified, so the only other choices in the fall will be independents, who have until June 1 to collect their 4,000 signatures for the gubernatorial race.

With most of the minor candidates sorted out, we enter a new phase of the race: the primary. For now, the attention will be focused on those candidates seeking their party’s nomination, rather than on the independents. Theoretically the campaign will take a back seat to action in Augusta while the Legislature is still in session, but in fact for many gubernatorial candidates the opposite will be true. There are advantages and disadvantages to being a sitting legislator running for governor, just as there are for a member of Congress running for president.

Sitting legislators are hampered in their campaigns simply because they have to focus on their job during the session, which of course leaves them less time for campaigning. You might not think this is a huge problem in spring once the caucuses are over, but if candidates aren’t out meeting voters then they should be spending their time raising money. When you’re busy governing, you can’t be entirely focused on the campaign the way a full-time candidate is.

Those currently in office also can’t avoid weighing in on the hot-button issues of the day if they come up for a vote the way outsider candidates can. The Legislature has a number of significant issues to tackle in this shortened session, which is supposed to adjourn by April 18. They’ll have to figure out how to pay for medicaid expansion, resolve tax conformity, and figure out a compromise on legalized recreational marijuana, amongst others. Getting all of that done will be difficult enough in the time left, but it will become even more challenging against the backdrop of the campaign.


Being in office does have its advantages, however. Sitting legislators can distinguish themselves from the field by actually getting things done on the issues, rather than just making promises to do so. That gives them a real record they can boast of once the session is over, which many voters will find comforting. It can help them make their case that, should they be elected governor, they might be able to get something done in Augusta rather than just talking about it.

Now that we know who will actually be on the ballot in June, candidates will probably begin to take more direct swipes at one another. We’ve already seen this on the Democratic side, with some of her opponents criticizing Attorney General Janet Mills for her involvement in a lawsuit over tribal water rights on the Penobscot River. This issue was a chance for those candidates to set themselves apart from the perceived Democratic frontrunner on a topic that’s been front-page news – and, perhaps, endear themselves to the liberal base of the Democratic Party. It also shows that serving in office can be politically perilous: In this case, Janet Mills earned the ire of many progressives simply for doing her job.

Over the course of the next month or so, we’ll see the impact of the gubernatorial race entering the primary phase. It will be interesting to see how the campaign affects the rest of the session, and how the session affects the rest of the campaign.

If the Legislature remains deadlocked on these issues, it may help those candidates who aren’t in the Legislature. If one of the legislative leaders running for governor can engineer a victory for their party on a significant issue, it could catapult them to the top of the field.

Either way, the rest of the session carries plenty of potential risks and rewards for the candidates.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @jimfossel

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