Governor Who?

Posted May 14, 2010, at 6:51 p.m.

Although Maine’s primaries are only about three weeks away, many voters have no idea who is running for governor, let alone which candidate they’ll support on June 8. This is partly because of the crowded field — seven Republicans and four Democrats — but also because there are so many competing visions for how to improve the state.

To cut through this clutter, State Economist Michael LeVert, has boiled down the race for governor to three questions. They offer a helpful way to evaluate the candidates.

A recent poll by Critical Insights showed that few voters know who is running for governor. In fact, eight of the candidates polled in the single digits in terms of name recognition.

The poll should be viewed a bit warily because it is hard to capture the opinions of Republican and Democratic Party members who will actually go to the polls next month. These voters are being singled out for attention from campaigns, so they are likely to know the most about the candidates and their agendas.

Still, the poll of 600 likely primary voters is remarkable for showing that even candidates who have been in the public spotlight remain largely unknown.

On the Democratic side, for example, Libby Mitchell, the current Senate President and former Speaker of the House, was identified by only 16 percent of those polled. Former Attorney General Steven Rowe, who is also a former Speaker of the House, was named by only 11 percent.

The best known candidate — at 30 percent — was Republican Les Otten, who has had ads on television longer than any other candidate. Peter Mills, a longtime legislator who ran for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2006, was named by 16 percent of those polled.

The remaining candidates, including former Conservation Commissioner Pat McGowan and three-term Waterville Mayor Paul LePage, were in single digits.

Forty-two percent of those polled couldn’t name a single candidate.

With so much confusion or disinterest in the primary races, candidates clearly need to find a way to stand out.

One way would be to answer the questions posed by Mr. LeVert, which are part of a presentation he is giving around the state (he will be at the Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday evening).

His most important question is: “What will we do to organize government differently at all levels to address the long-term challenges we face and support consistent investments in cluster-based innovation?”

Maine has more government than it can afford. Yet, it has neglected investment in research and development and other areas that will spur growth.

Saying you’ll cut government spending — which are the candidates are — is easy. Explaining how that will be done and how some of the savings will be reallocated to invest in proven job creation strategies is harder, but necessary.

Other related questions are: “What will we do to support a world-class education system and workforce for Maine, one that closely links education with Maine values and state economic development?” and “What will we do to strengthen and leverage Maine’s place-based assets, the very reason we live here and our most important economic and job creator?”

Answering these questions — with specifics — would serve voters and the candidates well.

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