Less than a month before the election, the race to choose who will lead Maine after eight tumultuous years under Gov. Paul LePage is … unusually quiet.

There have been no rallies with big-name national political figures, few polls, no headline-grabbing mudslinging and only a handful of relatively tame debates or forums to date.

And while candidates and their staffs are going full-bore, the two front-runners in the race – Democrat Janet Mills and Republican Shawn Moody – appear to be devoting more energy to small public events or private gatherings instead of splashy events.

“It does seem to be very low-key,” said Ted O’Meara, a veteran Maine political consultant and public relations specialist. O’Meara, who managed independent Eliot Cutler’s gubernatorial bids in 2010 and 2014, speculated that the seemingly nonstop turmoil emanating from Washington, D.C., could have something to do with the tone and intensity of Maine’s race for governor to date, although he expects that to change.

“I think that is part of what has sucked all of the political oxygen out of the room for the past month or so,” O’Meara said. “But you know all of the candidates are working day and night.”

‘THE ABSENCE OF GOV. LEPAGE’

Maine voters will choose among four candidates for governor on Nov. 6: Mills, a Farmington resident serving as attorney general; Moody, a Gorham businessman who founded a chain of auto body repair shops; and two independents, State Treasurer Terry Hayes of Buckfield; and Alan Caron, a business owner and economic development consultant from Freeport.

The race will undoubtedly heat up as the debate schedule intensifies and the money continues to pour into campaign coffers. Through Election Day, all four candidates have committed to roughly a half-dozen debates, including one Wednesday in Portland co-sponsored by the Portland Press Herald and the University of New England.

Clockwise from top left: Alan Caron, Terry Hayes, Shawn Moody, Janet Mills

During the 2010 race, LePage, Cutler and Democrat Libby Mitchell appeared on stage together at least 30 times, including four times during the last week of September and first week of October. (Moody ran as an independent that year, finishing fourth). Additionally, in both the 2010 and 2014 races, national political figures such as former President Bill Clinton and former first lady Michelle Obama were stumping in Maine during late September or early October.

As local television watchers can undoubtedly attest, there is no shortage of political ads this fall on the races for governor and Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, as well as the nomination fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. But all of the negative ads aired in the governor’s race – more than $2 million worth so far – have been purchased by outside groups or political parties, not by the campaigns themselves. It’s an increasingly common strategy that allows the candidates to distance themselves from the outside groups and lets the state’s political parties serve as attack dogs.

“The tone has been relatively positive,” said Jim Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington. “Now, part of that on both sides is the absence of Gov. LePage in the race.”

But Melcher also suspects that the intense 2nd CongressionalDistrict race between Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Democratic challenger Jared Golden also could be siphoning off – or wearing down – the public’s attention.

Nearly $15 million in television ads have been purchased by the Poliquin and Golden campaigns as well as outside groups, with much of the latter airing bitter attack ads.

“I think that has pushed the governor’s race off the radar a little bit,” Melcher said.

A RETURN TO ‘RETAIL POLITICS’

Perhaps not surprisingly, the pace of the gubernatorial race appears different from the inside.

Hayes said she couldn’t remember the last time she was this busy. Last week, she attended six debates or forums (not all involving the four candidates), had more than a half-dozen media interviews and met organizations ranging from the Maine Public Health Association to the Appalachian Mountain Club.

“I was very surprised to hear it described as ‘sleepy,’ ” Hayes said of the race. “That has not been my experience.”

Likewise, Mills held a meet-and-greet at a Falmouth retirement community, visited several community centers, attended the 40th anniversary gala for the Maine Women’s Lobby and marched in the Fryeburg Fair parade. But she also visited businesses and attended private gatherings that still drew sizable crowds, such as a house party in Pittsfield over the weekend that had 60 attendees, according to campaign manager Jeremy Kennedy.

Kennedy said the campaign is putting more emphasis on small-group gatherings and giving the candidate one-on-one time with individuals. And he attributed that shift – as well as increased interest in volunteering among supporters – to a weariness of “the bluster and the politics” of the past eight years.

Maine Political Report



“I feel like we have had a return to ‘retail politics’ where voters of Maine want to come and talk to the candidates and to meet them personally,” Kennedy said.

Lauren LePage, spokeswoman for the Moody campaign, said the campaign has been “getting Shawn in front of as many people as we can,” while also arranging small, private gatherings with business people around the state. Often facilitated by local legislators, the meetings allow more detailed policy discussions with Moody, who is campaigning on his track record of building an 11-shop auto body repair chain from the ground up.

“Maine’s economy is strong right now; we are virtually at full-employment and we have money in the rainy day fund,” LePage said in a tip of the hat to the policies of her father, Gov. LePage. “People are paying attention, but we are not facing any sort of crisis at this point. People are working, they are busy. And then what is happening at the national level, that is … taking up a lot of space as well.”

Only Caron said he detected a lower interest in politics this year.

“Overall, it’s been an astonishingly quiet race,” Caron said. “I have been around a lot of races and I have never seen a gubernatorial race with so little energy in it and I don’t know why.”

Both Caron and Hayes were still polling in the single digits in one of the only recent polls, which showed Moody and Mills running neck-and-neck. But polls showed Cutler at just 9 percent support at the end of September 2010 before he surged and closed to within 2 percent of LePage on Election Day.

Caron said he feels as if his campaign “fully started” after Labor Day, and he has lodged about 5,000 miles in the RV that is his rolling campaign office as he aims to visit every municipality in Maine. And while he isn’t sure of the reason for potentially lower energy levels in the electorate this year, his theory is that it reflects “some level of dissatisfaction with the leading candidates.”

“I think it’s an opening for both of us,” Caron said of himself and Hayes.

‘SEE YOU NEXT TIME’

Everyone agrees, however, that the tone thus far has been respectful and civil for a race with no clear leader.

While the candidates have yet to truly debate one another, Hayes said the civil tone shows that candidates with disparate views can discuss those differences respectfully without intense partisan sniping.

“Wouldn’t it be good if we got to November 6 without bomb-throwing?” Hayes said. “Just four good people running for governor. Isn’t that a good thing?”

Likewise, Mills described the race as civil and even “friendly,” at least so far.

“And why not?” Mills said Tuesday afternoon. “I am doing my best to keep a civil tone and to campaign on the merits, not on personalities.”

Moody said the upcoming debates will allow candidates to clearly differentiate their policy goals and experiences – an opportunity he plans to utilize to lay out his business track record. But Moody said despite the clear political differences between candidates, he believes the respectful tone of the campaign can and should continue.

“People I’ve talked to really appreciate that, given the climate that is out there today,” Moody said. “We can debate and have a good discussion, and then shake hands at the end of it and say, ‘See you next time.’ ”