AUGUSTA, Maine — Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows is hitting the road.
In her bid to unseat popular incumbent Republican Sen. Susan Collins, Bellows will walk a campaign trail from Houlton to Kittery. The trip will begin July 20 and is expected to last until Aug. 12.
Bellows, the former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, stopped at Lamey-Wellehan Shoes in Augusta Friday to discuss the campaign hike with reporters and supporters. She said that too often candidates don’t hear enough from the regular Mainers they are supposed to represent.
“We’re walking to restore grassroots democracy, to lift up Mainers whose voices have been left behind,” she said.
The trip, dubbed “Walk with Maine for Jobs and the Economy,” will take Bellows through Houlton, Grindstone, Milford, Unity, Augusta, Lewiston-Auburn, Otisfield, Waterboro and Kittery, among other stops.
All told, Bellows said she expects to visit 63 Maine towns and cities. She’s asking voters to join her for portions of the walk as she passes through their towns and said she’ll highlight successful, socially conscious Maine businesses along the way.
The candidate was joined Friday by three business people, who Bellows said were doing their part to make Maine a better place, despite federal inaction on issues such as raising the minimum wage.
Caroline Kurrus, the hiring director at Artforms, which produces screen-printed and embroidered clothing sold throughout Maine and overseas, said the company recently opted to raise its starting wage to $10.10 per hour — the amount advocated for by Bellows, as well as President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress.
“We stand with [Bellows] in putting our values in practice,” Kurrus said. “We did this out of a responsibility both to our employees, as well as to our customers.”
Jim Wellehan, one of the founders of the Lamey-Wellehan shoe chain, said raising the minimum wage would be a “win-win,” putting more money into workers’ pockets and decreasing the need for welfare spending by the state.
The walking political excursion is an old tradition in Maine. Former Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen walked from Gilead to Fort Kent back in 1972.
At the time, Cohen was the young Republican mayor of Bangor, trying to become Maine’s 2nd Congressional District representative. He hoped the walk would drum up publicity and help him win the race. It worked. Cohen defeated his Democratic opponent with 55.4 percent of the vote.
In 2002, several 2nd Congressional District hopefuls took to the roads and highways of northern Maine in an attempt to win support. One Republican candidate traveled the district by bicycle, while a Democrat hiked 160 miles from Cadillac Mountain in Bar Harbor to Mount Katahdin.
The eventual winner, Mike Michaud, who has held the seat ever since, conducted a “Live in the District” tour. He packed his bags and stayed with voters in their homes, from Lewiston to Machias to Houlton.
“I am proud to revive this important Maine tradition, of a walk across Maine, because that’s what our politics should be about, about listening to people, about lifting up their voices about the future of our country and the direction of our state,” Bellows said. “Too many politicians aren’t interested in listening to voters on the ground. I’m really excited to listen.”
That’s a sentiment shared by Wick Johnson, the head of Kennebec Technologies, a precision manufacturing firm in Augusta. “It’s time for elected officials to reconnect with the voters,” he said.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.
Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously said the trip will begin July 10. It will start July 20.