April 20, 2018
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How to beat Angus King


The Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate appears to be a long shot. The Republican candidate has a climb, too.

There are more than four months to go before the November general election, but a poll released Monday shows that if Mainers cast ballots now, Democratic candidate Cynthia Dill, a state senator and civil rights lawyer, would get just 9 percent of the vote.

Republican candidate Charlie Summers, Maine’s secretary of state, got 23 percent support in the poll conducted by the MassINC Polling Group for the Boston public radio station WBUR.

Though only 506 likely voters were polled, independent Angus King, Maine’s former governor, received tremendous 50 percent support. Seventeen percent of those polled were undecided and 1 percent supported other candidates.

While it’s tempting to dismiss candidates based on polling data, it’s important to remember that opinions can change quickly or something unexpected could tip the scales. The poll offers a chance to learn and helps prepare candidates for what they should do next.

The lesson from this poll is that Mainers want a moderate.

Telling of that fact is not just King’s poll numbers but who is supporting him. He was the pick of 60 percent of Democrats, 31 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of independents.

To chip away at King’s starting lead, Dill and Summers will have to appeal to moderates. They are, after all, aiming to replace one: U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, who has an 82 percent favorability rating.

It will be a difficult task for Summers, who supports a woman’s right to an abortion only in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother. And it will be difficult for Dill, who described the National Rifle Association as a special interest.

Focusing on winning moderates will allow Summers and Dill to reach new audiences and gain name recognition, which is currently a problem for them. Of those surveyed, 35 percent had never heard of Dill, and 23 percent had never heard of Summers. Meanwhile, 5 percent had never heard of King.

It will also help them extend their reach beyond their safety zone of southern Maine, which is also a problem for them, though more so for Dill. Summers is from Scarborough, Dill from Cape Elizabeth.

As their campaigns progress, it will be interesting to see whether and how their rhetoric changes and how Mainers respond through polling. Most important will be to see how they appeal to those in the center and explain why it shouldn’t be all about King. They need to win some of his current supporters to have a chance.

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