Summer used to be a quiet time in Maine politics, when candidates marched in parades and shook hands at fairs but saved campaigning in earnest for after Labor Day.

But there won’t be any quiet time this year. With 100 days until the election, Mainers are already being subjected to a sustained air war.

The race between U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon has been going in earnest since last year. The race is rated a toss-up by most analysts, and partisan control of the U.S. Senate hangs in the balance. Collins is the only Republican from New England in either house of Congress, and she is one of only two Republican senators up for re-election this year in a state won by Hillary Clinton.

Defeating Collins is key to Democrats’ plans to take control of the Senate, and holding on to the seat is essential to Republican hopes of keeping their majority. That makes us a prime target for out-of-state money and sets up this race to be the most expensive in Maine history and one of the most expensive in the country this year.

The campaigns alone have already raised more than $41 million, much of which has already been spent. On what? Media, mostly television ads, which have been on the air since last October. We can expect that spending to at least be doubled by organizations outside the campaigns.

We can expect most of the outside spending to be on negative ads, while the campaigns divide their resources between positive messages about the candidate and attacks on the opponent. By the time Election Day rolls around, voters will be battered by all the negative messaging, but not much better informed.


Why do campaigns do this? Because it works.

Fear gets our attention. That’s why we watch the weather report more carefully when there’s a storm coming. Advertising consultants have studied us and learned how to connect with us emotionally, and they repeat those messages again and again, imprinting them in our minds.

What can voters do about it? The Supreme Court has determined that all of these millions are constitutionally protected free speech, so until there is a constitutional amendment that limits spending on elections, these ads will be on the air and social media.

But we can be critical consumers of information, paying more attention to high-quality sources and less to the unfiltered claims of interest groups. There will be debates in the fall – maybe not the 16 debates that Collins has requested, but a reasonable number that will give voters an opportunity to compare the candidates, side by side.

There will also be coverage in the independent media, like this newspaper, which will put the campaigns’ claims through the journalistic process, verifying them and putting them in context.

The campaigns might not take a break from the air war this summer, but the rest of us can try to tune them out. Summer is still too short here, after all. And it’s up to each of us to decide how quiet we want it to be.

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