June 19, 2018
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Name recognition, not cash, led Dill, Summers to Senate primary victory

By Matthew Stone, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — Fresh off their Tuesday night primary victories, the Republican and Democratic candidates hoping to replace Olympia Snowe in the U.S. Senate worked on organizing their general election campaign operations Wednesday and found themselves responding to a challenge by independent former Gov. Angus King to disavow outside spending in the general election campaign.

The first full day of the general election campaign for Democrat Cynthia Dill and Republican Charlie Summers followed a primary election defined by low turnout and voter decisions influenced more by candidate name recognition and less by any major infusions of cash in the primary races, according to political analysts interviewed by the Bangor Daily News.

“I think the low turnout reflects in large part the unresponsiveness of the Senate to ordinary people,” said Dill, a state senator from Cape Elizabeth, who won the Democratic primary with 44 percent of the vote. “I don’t think people see the connection to what the Senate does and what families do on a day-to-day basis. I want to change that.”

Summers, Maine’s secretary of state, wasn’t available for an interview Wednesday. He won the six-way Republican primary with 29 percent of the vote.

Approximately 17 percent of Democrats turned out to vote in the four-way primary among Dill, former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, Portland Rep. Jon Hinck and home builder Ben Pollard. Turnout was higher on the Republican side, with about 27 percent of voters turning out to cast ballots in the GOP race, based on unofficial election results and voter registration statistics from the secretary of state’s office.

Along with Summers, the candidates in that race were former state Senate President Rick Bennett, business owner Scott D’Amboise, State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, assistant Senate Majority Leader Debra Plowman and Attorney General William Schneider.

The primary advantage for both Summers and Dill appeared to be stronger name recognition than their rivals, said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine.

“When you’re dealing with a low turnout election, even those people who are turning out aren’t terribly enthusiastic,” Brewer said. “Name recognition is incredibly important in those kinds of elections.”

Dill had the benefit of higher recognition among Democratic voters, especially in vote-rich Cumberland and York counties, as a result of her legislative service and recent campaign for the state Senate seat she holds. Summers had the advantage of three previous runs to represent Maine’s 1st Congressional District and his tenure as secretary of state, said Ethan Strimling, a former Democratic state senator and political analyst for the BDN and WCSH television.

Summers also placed first among his Republican rivals for name recognition in a March poll conducted by Public Policy Polling. In that early survey, Summers topped all of his eventual rivals with 18 percent support.

“When you’re starting out with a big advantage, all you really have to do is hold your own, and hold your own in the final few weeks,” Strimling said.

And the ability to do that almost made it unnecessary to raise large sums of cash, he said.

Summers placed fourth among his rivals in fundraising through the campaign finance filing period that ended May 23, pulling in about $90,000 in total contributions, according to reports on file with the Federal Election Commission. But he saved the bulk of his cash for the final weeks of the campaign, when he gave his campaign $50,000 of his own money and starting airing a TV ad.

Dill placed third among her Democratic rivals in fundraising, pulling in $38,000 in contributions through May 23. But fundraising mattered even less in the Democratic primary than in the Republican race, Strimling and Brewer said.

“If any of her opponents had raised a huge amount of money and spent that money, that would have made a difference, but nobody did on the Democratic side,” Brewer said.

While Summers and Dill might have benefited from name recognition in their party primaries, it’s far from certain that will be enough to carry them to victory against King.

Summers might prove capable of competing with King for moderate votes, Strimling said, and Dill will motivate Democrats and ask some tough questions of the governor.

But King is “certainly the prohibitive favorite at this point,” Brewer said. “It’s going to be an uphill battle for both of them.”

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