Editor’s Note: This is the first weekly column by Chris Busby, a longtime Maine journalist and publisher of The Bollard.
In a (desperate) attempt to make this month’s U.S. Senate primaries more interesting, I recently examined how the candidates are promoting themselves with campaign signs and Facebook pages. The former has been a political tool since the Stone Age, when the first proto-politician used bison blood to scrawl a simple message on a cave wall (Grok for Fire Council). Politicking since has evolved to the point where pols can post electronic messages on virtual walls (Like Grok for Fire Council), but voters’ response to all this has remained remarkably consistent over the millennia: profound annoyance.
Case in point: Bruce Poliquin. The Republican’s team has planted so many campaign signs in the median outside his headquarters in Damariscotta that locals call it Poliquin Island.
“There are some people who won’t vote for him just because of that,” a bookseller in Brunswick told me.
And they’re not even good signs. Though he gets a design point for using a modern font (Bruce Poliquin: anti-tax, pro-life, sans serif), he loses two points for printing “U.S. Senate” in a dark burgundy that disappears come dusk.
Poliquin is savvier on Facebook. His personal page boasts nearly 2,500 “friends” and more than 500 people “like” his campaign page, placing him second only to fellow Republican Scott D’Amboise in that measure of support.
D’Amboise makes a point of putting the word “conservative” on his campaign signs. I doubt that’ll swing many voters here in Portland, where signs for Republican candidates outnumber Republican voters by about 900 to 12, but he gets credit for wearing his icy cold heart on his sleeve.
D’Amboise’s Facebook page is a lot of fun. There’s a great picture of him watching a parade while Smurfette’s face hovers on a mylar balloon right above his head. Another photo shows a special edition of Life magazine, dedicated to the Constitution, in a Dumpster.
“I retrieved it from the trash,” D’Amboise posted. “Let’s stand up and defend the constitution.” Scott D’Amboise: Dumpster Diving for Freedom.
Rick Bennett’s Facebook page is fairly typical — mostly posts about campaign appearances and links to press coverage. Bennett and other Republicans often post things such as “Had a great time at the [insert county] Republican Committee Meeting,” a claim inevitably belied by the accompanying photos showing a dozen unsmiling oldsters sitting in uncomfortable chairs in some middle school cafeteria. His colorful signs capitalize on a rhyme: “Rick Bennett for Senate.”
Deb Plowman’s campaign signs are half the size of her rivals’ and far less numerous. And, curiously, like Democratic candidate Cynthia Dill, Plowman makes no effort to highlight the fact she’s the only woman in her party’s primary — neither candidate’s signs include their first name.
But Plowman does distinguish herself by displaying a sense of humor on Facebook. “Would Chellie Pingree fix your flat tire?” she asked next to a photo of fellow Republican State Sen. Jon Courtney (one of the congresswoman’s would-be challengers) inflating her tire at a gas station. “Somehow I’m thinking she wouldn’t,” a woman posted below that comment. “Or perhaps shed [sic] snap her fingers and have one of her minions do it :).” “I am her minion!!” Courtney replied in the same string of posts, thus effectively ending his political career.
Republican Bill Schneider’s signs are classy (dark navy blue, with a stylized flag), but his Facebook page is dull as dirt, save for a photo of him talking to three kids. “Really enjoyed meeting with voters after tonight’s debate in Machias,” he posted next to that picture. Those kids vote? Where’s Charlie Summers when you need him?
Summers’ page also has a photo of him with three kids, but in that image he’s wearing camo and holding an assault rifle. You can view an alternate version of Summers’ campaign sign on Facebook, the only difference being a halo-encircled star above his name. It probably was wise to leave that off the final version, given all the eyebrows that raised when he said God helped draft the Constitution.
Democrat Jon Hinck reveals an affinity for dystopian cinema on his personal Facebook page (“Brazil,” “Dr. Strangelove,” “The Matrix”), and reveals a complete lack of political savvy on his campaign page, where he has posted eight pictures of himself “speaking in opposition of LD 1658” (whatever that was). The shots, taken from the balcony, show most of his fellow state representatives ignoring him as he stands and delivers. And in half the images, Hinck’s not paying attention or speaking — just staring at his laptop and cell phone. His campaign signs are red and yellow, colors long associated with two core Democratic values: Communism and cowardice.
Matt Dunlap italicized his name on his signs in a futile attempt to appear more exciting. His personal Facebook page is depressing. For example, he likes two games, one of which is solitaire (D’Amboise, by contrast, lists Risk). That said, Dunlap’s got about 300 more “friends” than Hinck.
Dill has more Facebook “friends” than her three Democratic rivals but she’s also got more haters. One set up a page last January called Censored by Cynthia (“Dedicated to exposing [Dill] as the ultra liberal she is.”) that claims the candidate “unfriends” users who post critical comments on her pages. Sixty-nine people like Censored by Cynthia, including Dill herself. “Don’t take it personally, guys!” she wrote in a post on that page. “You can’t really blame me for not allowing you to smear me on my own pages, can you?”
Dill apparently is running for “US Senate” (not to be confused with the evil THEM Senate). One wishes she was as liberal with punctuation as she is politically.
I have yet to see a sign for Democrat Benjamin Pollard. The magnanimous candidate “likes” the Facebook pages of several rivals, including Dill, Dunlap and Angus King, but Hinck is not on the list. Pollard even likes Summers’ campaign page, and posted a nice note there last April wishing him luck. As of this writing, there’s no post from Summers in response.
Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard, a monthly magazine about Portland. His column appears weekly.