U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud threw his hat into the ring Thursday for next year’s gubernatorial race, and it was easy to see campaign narratives formed long ago in action.
During a half-hour-long address, Michaud painted some broad policy strokes that set him apart from the man he hopes to defeat: incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
But it didn’t take long for him to dive into talking points that are sure to define Democrats’ efforts to recapture the Blaine House next year.
“Personal and political attacks are standing in the way of progress,” Michaud said. “Our state has become a punchline on late-night TV. An abrasive, ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ agenda alienates and divides our people.”
“The tone in Augusta has turned into endless strings of angry rants and partisan, personal attacks,” he said later on. “That’s not the way we do things in Maine.”
Republicans wasted no time fighting back.
“While he talks of civility, Michaud’s record is one of extremism and liberalism having supported California’s Nancy Pelosi with votes up to 96 percent of the time,” LePage campaign adviser Brent Littlefield declared in a pre-emptive response to Michaud’s campaign rally.
“Michael Michaud is advocating more welfare spending that will send Maine back to the growing welfare of the Baldacci years,” he continued. “Maine people know the state cannot afford more Baldacci-Michaud years.”
The Maine Republican Party later chimed in with a fundraising appeal. “We have a plan to defeat Mike Michaud and his liberal policies,” read the email from Party Chairman Rick Bennett.
Democrats are hoping they have a clear path to victory next year — one that relies in large part on making the campaign about style. Specifically, LePage’s style and the desire of many voters to see civility restored in the State House.
It will be an easy — and likely advantageous — approach for Democrats to shape a campaign around the man they want to defeat. Michaud can set himself apart from LePage simply by talking about style.
Republicans are hoping they can turn voters off from Michaud by using monikers like “liberal policies,” tying him to Pelosi and San Francisco, and making allusions to a return to the Baldacci years.
Independent Eliot Cutler hopes these predictable narratives from the Democratic and Republican nominees create an opening for him. “Maine voters want something better than the cynical and partisan party politics that have overtaken Washington and Augusta and have denied opportunity to thousands and thousands of Maine people,” he said in his statement on Michaud’s entrance into the race.
More than 14 months before Election Day, the talking points are largely set.
Our advice to LePage, Michaud, Cutler and their operatives? Surprise us.
Leadership style is one of the substantive differences that should define this campaign. But the candidates can pleasantly surprise us by elevating the discussion to one that addresses genuine policy differences.
Michaud and Democrats can stray from the talking points that declare LePage “has put his thumb on the scale for the rich, the powerful and the connected.” Instead, they can articulate viable policies for future economic growth in Maine rather than simply oppose the policies of LePage.
LePage and Republicans can stray from the ominous warnings about the extremist policies of Pelosi. They can instead explain why a divisive leadership style that impedes cooperation is a productive approach to governance. And they can explain how LePage policies have had a direct impact on a lower unemployment rate in Maine, even as job creation in the state lags the nation.
Unfortunately, we’ll be surprised if this is the debate that unfolds.