April 24, 2018
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The long crapshoot to November

By Kent Ward

One day after easily winning the Republican nomination for governor in Tuesday’s primary election, Paul LePage of Waterville — the hottest newsmaker in Maine at the moment — declined to make himself available for media interviews.

LePage campaign manager John Morris told reporters the newly minted gubernatorial nominee was fulfilling prior commitments at the Marden discount store chain, of which he is general manager, and would be tied up in daylong meetings in which he would be “trying to bring more jobs to Maine.’’

Meanwhile, Democratic nominee Libby Mitchell — whose win on Tuesday was no great surprise — returned to the campaign grind in Portland, where she appeared with her three primary opponents in what was billed as a “unity press conference.” Mitchell said she wants to speak to the people about their concerns, which do not include partisan politics. “We’re above that,’’ she suggested.

LePage’s decision to forgo basking in the glow of his stunning victory on the morning after may be questioned by some armchair political strategists who might have had him hitting the ground running toward November, like Mitchell. But it can just as well be seen as an indication that the man may march to the beat of a different drummer in his approach to politics, a trait not unappreciated by a Yankee electorate that can be ornery at times, as well.

LePage didn’t just eke out a win in a crowded field of seven candidates — he won huge, unexpectedly doubling the winning percentage of his nearest competitor. Like the late independent Gov. Jim Longley of Lewiston, he ran an intense campaign that seemed to catch fire in its late stages.

When Longley upset the gubernatorial apple cart in his 1974 general election race with Democrat George Mitchell and Republican Jim Erwin, reporters following the candidates as they campaigned throughout the state that autumn could palpably feel the Longley momentum catching hold in the final days before the election.

So, too, it must have seemed to alert reporters covering the LePage campaign. Shortly before the primary, I received a telephone call from former wire service reporter and Vietnam War correspondent Glenn MacDonald, a retired Army Reserve officer from Maine now living in Arizona, where he works on his website, militarycorruption.com.

He had heard from a number of sources in southern Maine that LePage was the hot Republican candidate going into Tuesday’s voting, MacDonald said, and he wanted to know if there might be something afoot for a candidate that polls showed to be running in the middle of the pack.

Beats me, I told him. Sitting up here in big sky country, woefully out of the loop, I wasn’t hearing much these days but the reassuring sound of farmers working their land from dawn to dusk as they fuss with the spring crop. If LePage was to be the stealth candidate who’d claim the GOP nomination, I’d be about the last guy to hear of it.

Others subsequently told me that they too were hearing talk of victory for LePage, the three-term Republican mayor of predominantly Democratic Waterville. Perhaps something dramatic was taking shape in this year of mounting voter discontent, if anyone cared to listen and connect the dots.

Well, now we know. In spades. Let the analysis and the Monday morning punditry begin.

Bates College political science professor emeritus Doug Hodgkin believes it would be a mistake to give a riled-up Tea Party’s governmental reform movement sole credit for the LePage win. It was an element of his support, Hodgkin told reporters, but the conservative Republican nominee whose extensive resume runs the gamut from poverty and childhood homelessness to an MBA degree and success in the business world appealed to a much broader slice of the population than that.

Because three independent candidates for governor have qualified to have their names on the November ballot, we’ll never know how LePage versus Mitchell — serious conservative versus equally serious liberal — one-on-one, winner take all, might have turned out.

The road leading to a five-way crapshoot in November is long, winding and filled with the potholes and frost heaves of voter unrest. At this early stage of the trek, only a fool would be so presumptuous as to pick a winner and bet the farm on it.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at olddawg@bangordailynews.com.

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