While the party primaries to decide the general-election nominees are rapidly approaching this Tuesday, they haven’t – until recently – drawn much attention from the media, or probably the voters themselves, either. That’s partly because none of the marquee candidates in Maine – for governor or Congress – face serious opposition, unlike in years past. Both of the major-party gubernatorial nominees are completely unopposed, and neither incumbent member of Congress has an opponent. The primary contest in the 2nd Congressional District is unlikely to be particularly close.

Still, there are plenty of contested primaries further down the ballot line all over the state, especially for the Maine House and Senate, which could have significant reverberations in November.

Now, while there are real primary contests in some of these districts, none of them are likely to directly affect the outcome in the fall. There aren’t many seriously competitive districts where there are also competitive primaries: In those seats, each party has, for the most part, done a good job recruiting their favored candidate and lining up behind them. In a sense, that’s an encouraging sign in and of itself for each party: In other states, and at the federal level, the activists on both sides haven’t spared those battleground districts from their ire. In Maine, they largely have, already showing greater discipline here than elsewhere in the country.

While these races might not change which party wins the seat, they’re hugely important not only to each candidate involved, but to various factions in each party. There’s a growing schism emerging in the Democratic Party as of late between the leadership and the grassroots. In Maine, Republicans have seen this happen again and again over the years, while Democrats have largely managed to keep their disputes internal, showing greater party discipline. A big part of the reason for that is a basic facet of American democracy: It was easier for Democrats to be unified when they were in the opposition.

That was true for Maine Democrats when Paul LePage was in the Blaine House, and it was equally true for Democrats nationally when Donald Trump was in the White House. Now that Democrats are in control in both Augusta and Washington, we’re seeing that unity begin to fracture. The progressive base has become increasingly frustrated with both President Biden and Gov. Janet Mills, neither of whom have always been willing to embrace their agenda publicly. So, they’re taking that frustration out down the ticket.

In Maine, this hasn’t actually translated into many pitched ideological battles between liberal and moderate Democrats as of yet, even in safe districts. Instead, it’s resulted in a few seats where, rather than being a contest of ideas, it’s a fight over power and influence within the party itself. While the leadership and the grassroots activists each have different candidates, they aren’t staking out radically different positions on the issues: We don’t see many pro-life Democrats, for instance, being challenged. We also don’t see leadership – in either party – recruiting many candidates in primaries solely because another candidate is ideologically extreme.

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Now, it might seem as if avoiding these ideological fights is a good thing for both parties, but the problem is that it gives bored activists who care more about being right than winning the time to pick other fights. Often, these fights are about internal party politics and personality disputes that don’t really matter to anyone except the people involved – just like many of the primaries around the state this week. Still, if the general electorate sees either party engaging in these kind of petty fights rather than addressing serious issues like inflation, it could seriously hobble that party come November.

One of the key political benchmarks this year will be party unity. We’ve already seen cracks emerge between both Mills and Democrats and LePage and Republicans. Mills vetoed a bill sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson, while LePage and legislative Republicans disagreed about the stimulus checks included in the most recent state budget.

LePage, correctly, derided them as gimmicks, while Mills was quick to embrace the Republican proposal. The question for both parties is whether both substantive debates like these – and minor kerfuffles over internal party politics – prove fatal or they are able to overcome them and unify. That could well be the biggest factor in determining who wins every race this fall. Maine voters want candidates who can present practical solutions to real problems, not ones who only care about being right all the time.

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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