AUGUSTA, Maine — It’s hard to stand out when you’re one in the pack of candidates running for governor. Some have taken to the airwaves to tell their story as the June 8 primaries approach. Others highlight their initiatives, and their fundraising skills. This past week, one candidate announced he had a campaign theme song.
But it turns out getting noticed is only part of the equation. What it really comes down to at this stage is being able to identify supporters, corral them and get them to vote.
“Organization is the No. 1 determinate of who’s going to get the nomination,” said Tony Payne, a former Republican congressional hopeful who now heads the Alliance for Maine’s Future.
The race to succeed Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, who’s completing his second term, features seven Republicans, four Democrats and nine nonparty independents. But the emphasis now is on the primary races in which the two major parties will choose their nominees for the Nov. 2 general election.
“I haven’t seen such an open year since pre-1994. Nobody has it clinched,” said Dennis Bailey, who’s working for Democratic candidate Rosa Scarcelli and helped independent Angus King win the Blaine House election 16 years ago.
The competition for supporters is intense, given the small anticipated turnout; 20 percent of eligible voters is a good turnout in primaries. Campaigns are scouring voter registration lists to find out who’s likely to vote so they can be contacted. They also are using social networking tools such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube as never before to round up volunteers and reach out to potential supporters.
Identifying where votes are “is a huge part of a primary election. It always has been, always will be,” said Jim Mitchell, who in 1994 lost in a congressional primary to Baldacci and is now supporting Pat McGowan for governor.
That axiom takes on more meaning when you look at the numbers, says Mitchell.
In the more crowded Republican race, for example, a candidate could win with 13,500 votes given the likely turnout.
Geography plays a role in drawing voters to a candidate. In the Democratic race, John Richardson’s decision to drop out last week limits the competitors in southern Maine’s Cumberland County area to Scarcelli and Steve Rowe, who are both from Portland. Libby Mitchell, the state Senate president from Vassalboro, has close ties to state workers, who are concentrated in central Maine’s capital area.
The fourth Democrat, McGowan, emphasizes his ties to northern Maine by pointing to work he has done to open land to outdoor sports enthusiasts, and his strong showings in 1990 and 1992 races for the 2nd District congressional seat. McGowan’s also taken an offbeat tack to draw attention to himself by launching a campaign song.
Richardson, of Brunswick, had close ties to organized labor groups, and it’s an open question where they’ll concentrate their support now that he’s gone.
“I think labor’s going to look for a home and the candidates are going to try to be that home,” said Payne. Bailey notes that some constituencies that can provide punch to a campaign are likely to remain on the sidelines until after a nominee is chosen, or at least until a clear front-runner emerges.
Among the Republicans, Steve Abbott is trying to forge a bond with the politically aware hunting-fishing crowd. He also walks into the campaign with ties to a broad base of potential supporters nurtured through his years as U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ chief of staff.
Peter Mills benefits from the network he’s already built in his 2006 run for governor and like fellow senator Mitchell, connections he’s made in his long career in and around state government. Matt Jacobson, who’s in the business of drawing business to Maine, as CEO of Maine and Company, is seen as making a bid to middle-aged entrepreneurial types.
Waterville Mayor Paul LePage, who has surprised many observers with the breadth of his support, has made a campaign presence at tea party gatherings, emphasizing his bid for conservative votes.
LePage’s ability to draw conservative votes detracts from candidate Bill Beardsley’s base of social conservatives. But Beardsley, the former Husson College president, may also get a bump by being the lone GOP candidate living in the Bangor-Ellsworth area.
Like Les Otten, Bruce Poliquin has had access to personal funds to loan or give their campaigns, giving both the ability to introduce themselves to voters through paid television advertising so they can connect with them in appeals for support later in the campaign.