AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Democrats are taking to the airwaves early as they try to focus voters’ attention on state legislative races that are key to determining which party controls the Legislature.
Democrats on Thursday launched TV ads on cable stations in the Bangor, Lewiston, Waterville and Rockland areas that accuse the incumbent Republicans in five state Senate races of being “rubber stamps” for Gov. Paul LePage’s agenda.
The ads accuse Sens. Nichi Farnham of Bangor, Thomas Martin of Benton, Lois Snowe-Mello of Poland, Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls and Chris Rector of Thomaston of supporting tax cuts for wealthy residents, scaling back health insurance coverage and contributing to slow job growth in the state.
The TV ads are part of a publicity push well ahead of the November election that also includes a website, online ads and campaign mailings, according to the Democratic party.
“Our candidates are knocking on doors every day talking about their vision for the future of Maine and what they want to do,” said Maine Democratic Party spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt. “Part of that needs to be supplemented by the record of Republicans in Augusta.”
The media campaign isn’t a large one. The five ads will play 350 times total this week and next week, Reinholt said.
“It’s to start getting the message out there, to start educating folks,” she said.
Republicans called the ads “desperate” and criticized Democrats for launching a negative media campaign.
“When you can’t run on your record, you resort to baseless attack ads,” Maine Republican Party chairman Charlie Webster said in a statement. “Maine Democrats are following the Obama playbook of, ‘When your policies caused the problems, just go negative and hope people will forget.’”
The races targeted by the Democrats offer some insight into the seats they think they have a chance of taking from Republicans in November. The Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, the Maine party’s primary arm for Senate campaign efforts, is paying for the TV ads, and the Maine Democratic Party is paying for some of the campaign mailings. Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond of Portland runs the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee.
Four of the five Republican senators targeted by the ads hold seats that Democrats held before Republicans won them in 2010. Republicans now control the chamber with 19 members, Democrats have 15 senators and one senator is unenrolled.
In the fifth race targeted by the ad campaign, Democratic Rep. Edward Mazurek, a former Rockland mayor, is challenging Rector in his bid for a third Senate term.
“We have really strong candidates in those five districts,” Reinholt said. “At the end of the day, all five of those [Republican] senators very often would side with Gov. LePage over the interests of their constituents.”
The ads cite a major health insurance overhaul bill pushed by Republicans and a supplemental budget package passed in May to claim that Republicans have reduced health insurance coverage for Maine residents.
The supplemental budget makes about $20 million in cuts to the state’s Medicaid program, affecting coverage for about 36,000 low-income and disabled residents. The insurance bill, opposed by most legislative Democrats, will allow residents to buy out-of-state insurance plans and allow insurance companies to charge higher rates to residents who are older, sicker and live in rural areas.
Democrats also cite the state’s current two-year budget bill — which lowered the state’s top income tax rate to 7.95 percent from 8.5 percent — as evidence that Republicans cut taxes for wealthy residents.
Republicans on Thursday pointed out that Democrats largely supported the final two-year budget plan that contained the tax cuts.
For their job growth claim, the Democrats cited a November 2011 article in Forbes magazine that ranked Maine last on its “Best States for Business” list, which accounted for business costs, labor supply, regulatory environment, growth prospects and other factors. The Democratic ad says Maine ranked “fifth worst” for job growth, although that wasn’t a category Forbes used to develop its ranking.
Republicans said that ranking came out before many of their policies had a chance to take effect. LePage took office in January 2011.