BANGOR, Maine — With the gubernatorial primary races winding toward the fateful June 8 vote, candidates are searching for anything that can separate them from the rest of the pack.
This is particularly true in the stacked Republican field, which has seven candidates vying for the party’s nomination. One weapon being used with increasing frequency is endorsements, which is when a person or organization throws support behind a particular candidate.
In addition to variations in the kinds of endorsements touted by the Republican candidates, the candidates have used various techniques in making them known.
Steve Abbott’s campaign has sent out numerous endorsement announcements in the past few weeks, insisting that those endorsements show he is gaining momentum in the race.
“We’ve been very fortunate that many, many people, including business leaders and members of the Legislature, have said that Steve’s vision is the right vision for Maine,” said Abbott campaign spokeswoman Felicia Knight. Among Abbott’s supporters are Cianbro’s Peter Vigue, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Recreational Fishing Alliance.
Les Otten, on the other hand, has also garnered numerous endorsements, which the campaign will begin to roll out today, beginning with conservative radio talk show host Ray Richardson, according to campaign manager Edie Smith. Endorsement announcements for Otten will continue with about two a day between now and the primary, including numerous business owners and members of the Legislature.
Other candidates, such as Bruce Poliquin, dedicate space on their websites where voters can peruse the candidate’s supporters. Campaign spokesman Brian Phillips said Poliquin has deliberately sought support from “everyday Mainers” in an attempt to connect with the widest swath of the electorate.
“That’s been our focus, getting real people who pay real bills,” said Phillips. Of the 33 people listed on Poliquin’s website as supporters, most were business owners ranging from John Quirk of VIP Parts, Tires and Service to Steve and Kimberly Brackett, owners of a neighborhood grocery store in Bath.
Bill Beardsley, who has entrenched his candidacy on the conservative side of the Republican Party, has garnered support from a mix of legislators and well-known conservatives, according to Michael Pajak, his campaign manager.
“Bill has been warmly received into the Christian and faith values voter community,” said Pajak. “He’s spent a fair amount of time meeting with pastors and pastors’ groups.”
Among Beardsley’s supporters are pastor Bob Emrich of Plymouth, who led the successful effort to repeal Maine’s same-sex marriage law, and Wilma Bradford, an influential Bangor resident.
Peter Mills has more than 50 supporters listed on his website, ranging from former Maine Gov. John Reed to University of Maine at Farmington professor Tom Saviello. “Peter is one of the smartest men I know,” said Saviello, who is also a member of the House of Representatives. “He has a complete grasp of the state and its issues.”
Mills also lists numerous other past and present legislators as supporters.
Matt Jacobson will announce several endorsements this week, according to campaign spokesman Martin Sheehan. Jacobson has several legislators and business owners supporting the campaign.
“We’re putting a particular emphasis on small business owners,” said Sheehan. Among Jacobson’s endorsers is Augusta Mayor Roger Katz, Orrington builder Dick Campbell and Brian Hamel, who is a partner in a Presque Isle-based financial services firm called Thompson-Hamel LLC.
Paul LePage is another candidate who intends to unveil numerous endorsements in the next two weeks, according to campaign spokesman Michael Hersey. LePage already has announced support from the Maine Chapter of the Republican Liberty Caucus and the Red County Caucus. On Tuesday, LePage will be in Augusta to announce a list of 13 legislators who also support him.
“Paul is attracting new supporters everywhere he goes,” said Hersey.
So what does it all mean?
According to University of Southern Maine political science department head Ronald Schmidt, endorsements can mean a lot in some races and very little in others. With such a large field of Republicans, this could be a year when endorsements are crucial to a candidate’s success or failure.
“Endorsements are only as useful as the campaign is skillful in getting the news out,” said Schmidt. “The candidates will ideally try to use endorsements as a way to persuade voters that they are a good investment of their time and their votes. In a race as crowded as the GOP primary, that makes tremendous sense.”
Which endorsements a campaign highlights can be a bit of a guessing game, said Schmidt, especially in an atypical election such as this one. Listing too many politicians, for example, may end up being a mistake, he said.
“If there is, in fact, an anti-incumbent mood out there, that might be risky,” said Schmidt, who added that the Republican nomination could go to almost any of the candidates.
“At this point it could wind up really being a battle of getting out the vote,” he said. “It’s still very possible that someone is going to hit a ball out of the park or make a big mistake. I stopped placing bets, as it were, awhile ago.”