PORTLAND — Maine has always been proud of the commodities it claims as homegrown, among them Stephen King, L.L. Bean, lobster, and a host of political icons including Edmund Muskie, George Mitchell and Olympia Snowe.
But no matter what happens in the election this fall to replace the retiring Snowe, Mainers won’t get a native to represent the state. All six candidates — a Republican, a Democrat and four independents — are transplants from other states, or as Mainers say, “from away.”
That’s a bit of a shocker to the natives.
“Holy catfish. I get a chill down my back,” said Maine humorist Tim Sample.
Independent Angus King hails from Alexandria, Va., attended Dartmouth College and moved to Maine, where he has settled in Brunswick. Democrat Cynthia Dill, born in Carmel, N.Y., attended the University of Vermont and Northeastern University and now lives in Cape Elizabeth. Republican Charlie Summers grew up and went to college in Illinois and has transplanted himself in Scarborough.
There also are three lesser-known independents: Steve Woods, of Yarmouth, grew up in Needham, Mass.; Danny Dalton, of Brunswick, hails from Massena, N.Y.; and Andrew Ian Dodge, of Harpswell, grew up in Britain and Florida and spent summers in Maine before attending Colby College and settling in the Maine.
Out-of-staters running for office isn’t anything new, in Maine or elsewhere. Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, moved as a boy to Indiana and settled in Illinois before launching his political career. Hillary Rodham Clinton and the late Robert F. Kennedy moved to New York to run for Senate.
The Maine politician who came closest to a White House run, 1800s newspaperman James G. Blaine, served as U.S. House speaker, senator and secretary of state despite being born in Pennsylvania, said Paul Mills, a lawyer, political analyst, newspaper columnist and historian from Farmington. In modern times, Sen. Bill Hathaway ran against Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, from Skowhegan, and beat her even though he was from Massachusetts.
But it’s the first time in at least 130 years that all the Maine Senate candidates are transplants, Mills said.
Considering the sheer number of candidates, that’s unusual.
King, who once worked for Hathaway, came to Skowhegan in 1969 to put his law degree to work for Pine Tree Legal Assistance, which helps poor Mainers. He fell in love with the state and stayed, serving as governor from 1995 to 2003.
“What I always tell people is that I wanted to be born in Maine but my mother was in Virginia that day. And since it was a big day for her, I thought I should be there,” he joked.
Dill and Summers tell similar stories.
Summers followed his future wife to Maine, taking his first job as assistant manager of the Bangor Motor Inn. After his wife died unexpectedly, he became a single father caring for his children and trying to make ends meet. He’s now remarried.
“People will judge you by the way you deal with them,” said Summers, who grew up in Kewanee, Ill. “If you deal fairly and honestly with them, then they’ll warm to you.”
Dill became familiar with Maine through summer vacations as a girl — and a couple of Grateful Dead concerts as a college student — before getting legal internships in Brunswick and Augusta.
“Intentionally choosing this state to live and raise a family and make a living, even though you could make more money other places, demonstrates a commitment to the state and its way of life,” she said.
Heaping praise on Maine is a good thing, said Sample, of Bath.
The state takes pride in its seafaring and lumberjack roots and its long tradition of independence, which includes parting with Massachusetts in 1820 to become a state of its own.
Here, you can buy “native lobsters” and “native corn.” One general store jokingly touts “fresh native ice cubes.”
The us-versus-them theme is common among hardscrabble states like Maine that have a fierce loyalty to geography, Sample said. At the same time, there’s a summer influx of wealthy vacationers from all over the world, giving rise to the “Vacationland” slogan emblazoned on license plates.
“They come here and they can buy everything, but the one thing they can’t buy is native status. We hold it over them, and it drives them nuts,” he joked.
When it comes to politics, Maine likes its hometown heroes as well.
Muskie was a senator, secretary of state and presidential candidate. Mitchell was Senate leader and peace envoy. Smith, too, gained prominence through her “Declaration of Conscience” attacking McCarthyism. Snowe has been a popular centrist.
As for being from away, King proved that it doesn’t have to be a political liability. He was only the second Maine governor from outside New England and only the third from away in the past 125 years, Mills said.
But he doesn’t pretend to be a native.
He recalls, as a proud new father, excitedly telling a Maine farmer that his newly arrived firstborn son would be a Mainer. The farmer put him in his place. “He looked over his glasses and said, ‘Just because a cat has her kittens in the oven don’t make them biscuits.'”