AUGUSTA, Maine — On Nov. 4, Maine will elect a governor and three of its four members of Congress. The state’s voters also will again decide whether to ban bear baiting and settle six bond questions.
Here are status reports on those key elections as the Pine Tree State’s political candidates and their backers open the throttle on Labor Day, the traditional kickoff of all-out campaigning.
The Race: Incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage faces challenges from Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler, who came within two percentage points of winning the Blaine House in 2010. LePage, 65, defined much of his first term with inflammatory statements and angry outbursts that have made him one of the most controversial governors in the country. However, he has several major accomplishments to his credit, including orchestrating the payment of roughly $738 million in state and federal Medicaid debt to Maine hospitals and implementing sweeping tax cuts in 2012 with Republican majorities in the Legislature.
Michaud, 59, a former paper mill employee, has not lost an election since he first ran for the Maine House of Representatives in 1980. Known for bringing federal dollars to Maine projects and opposition to international trade agreements that he says harm domestic workers, Michaud counts himself among the Blue Dog Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, a group that stands for fiscal conservatism.
Cutler, 68, a lawyer who co-founded what became a major national environmenta l law firm, traces his political roots to stints on the staffs of Sen. Edmund Muskie and President Jimmy Carter, both Democrats. Cutler has branded himself in the image of former independent Gov. Angus King — who endorsed Cutler in both 2010 and 2014 — through his vows to eschew political ideology and work with both parties.
There is a fourth candidate on the ballot, independent Lee Schultheis, a retired mutual fund manager focused on changing election laws, whose campaign slogan is that he’s running for governor, “but not really.”
The Issues: The major issue in the gubernatorial race, as usual, is the state’s economy. LePage claims 20,000 new jobs were created during his first term. His opponents counter that most of those jobs were restored as part of a national recovery from the Great Recession — and that Maine job gains lag behind most other states.
Welfare reform, which LePage and legislative Republicans have highlighted since late last year, is an issue that has registered with many voters, prompting Michaud and Cutler to release detailed plans of their own.
Perhaps the most divisive issue — and there are many — is whether the state should expand its Medicaid program under the provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act, which LePage has successfully vetoed five times. Both Cutler and Michaud have said that expanding Medicaid to approximately 70,000 uninsured Mainers will be among their first initiatives if elected.
The Polls: LePage’s support has been locked within a few points of 38 percent since the 2010 election, and there is little indication it will go below that level. Michaud polls within a few percentage points of LePage — more often ahead than behind — and Cutler tracks a distant third with support in the mid-teens, though his support in 2010 was equally dreary until the closing weeks of the campaign.
The Money: LePage will be far outspent this year, just as he was in 2010. According to the most recent figures available — which at this point are six weeks old — Michaud and Cutler have each raised nearly $2 million, though Cutler has loaned almost half of his total to his own campaign. LePage has raised about $1.2 million. Whatever the totals, the flow of cash from state and national partisan groups and political action committees will exceed any of the candidates’ spending.
What to Expect: The major question in this election is to what degree Michaud and Cutler will split the moderate and liberal vote and whether that split will lead to a second term for LePage. While all three candidates are talking policy, they and their supporters are also attacking: LePage is portrayed as a divisive tea party obstructionist; Michaud as a pliable mouthpiece for the Democratic agenda, and Cutler as a no-chance political has-been.
Given Cutler’s 11th-hour rise in 2010, it’s possible that the complexion of this race will morph in the final weeks — or even days — as anti-LePage voters coalesce behind either Michaud or Cutler or undecided independent voters swing heavily to one candidate.
Debate: The three major candidates have committed to at least five debates, with possibly more in the works, including one co-sponsored by the BDN and CBS 13 at 7 p.m. Oct. 20 at the University of Southern Maine, which will be streamed at bangordailynews.com.
The Race: Republican Sen. Susan Collins, seen by many as one of the most powerful women in Washington because of her long tenure in politics and willingness to occasionally vote against her party in an otherwise gridlocked Congress, faces off against Democrat Shenna Bellows, a political newcomer who despite her underdog status is running a spirited, issues-based campaign.
Collins, 61, first dipped her toe in politics in 1975 as a staff assistant for former Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cohen. She served in a handful of government positions, including as the state’s commissioner of professional and financial regulation under Republican Gov. John McKernan and as a regional director for Republican President George H.W. Bush’s Small Business Administration. Collins lost to King in a 1994 run for governor but was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996, where she has held influential committee assignments including appropriations, armed services and her current role as ranking member of the Special Committee on Aging.
Bellows, 39, has spent much of her career in the nonprofit sector, including volunteer stints with AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, before becoming an outspoken public figure in her eight-year tenure directing the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. A fierce defender of individual freedoms and women’s health rights, Bellows was a driving force in implementing the state’s same-sex marriage and same-day voter registration laws.
TheIssues: Despite the fact that both candidates support abortion rights and that Collins became the fourth GOP senator to publicly endorse same-sex marriage, Bellows has hit at the incumbent on social issues. Earlier this summer, Bellows attacked Collins for her position on a bill to overturn the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision to allow some employers to opt out of paying for contraceptive coverage — despite the fact that Collins agreed with Bellows in her support of the bill, which Bellows called an election year flip-flop.
Bellows strongly supports President Barack Obama’s push to increase the national minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. Collins has said recently that she is interested in working toward a compromise measure but has not identified what minimum wage she supports.
Defense spending will also be a focus in the campaign, mostly because of Collins’ work to land construction contracts for Bath Iron Works and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, which have paid off this year with several labor union endorsements for Collins that almost always have gone to Democrats.
The Polls: Collins dominates in the polls. A recent survey conducted by Public Policy Polling, which was commissioned by the Bellows campaign, found Collins leading the Democrat 57-33 percent. Though Bellows says her support among Democrats improved some 20 points to 64 percent in the wake of her 350-mile campaign walk, Collins is considered one of the safest incumbents in the nation.
The Money: The situation here is even more lopsided than the polls, according to Federal Election Commission data that reflect donations through June of this year. Collins, the matriarch of the Maine Republican Party who is known for her prowess in attracting donors, has already raised in excess of $4.3 million — which is about $3 million more than Bellows’ $1.3 million.
What to Expect: As long as she remains far ahead, Collins will keep her campaign positive, though her staff has at times voiced pointed rebuttals to Bellows’ statements and policy positions. One of Collins’ first television advertisements focused on a congressional measure she supported which helped breweries sell their spent grains for animal feed. Bellows’ ads so far have been mostly introductory in nature. Expect Collins to continue to focus on her constituent service and for Bellows to try to tie Collins to the dysfunctional gridlock in Congress and some of the more extreme ideas of the Republican Party. Bellows will also continue to pressure the incumbent in to participate in as many debates as possible, but don’t expect Collins to bite.
Debate: The BDN and CBS13 will host a candidate debate between Bellows and Collins on Tuesday, Oct. 27. The debate will be broadcast live on television and streamed on bangordailynews.com.
1st District U.S. House
The Race: Three-term incumbent Democrat Chellie Pingree faces two challengers — Gorham Republican Isaac Misiuk and Sanford independent Richard Murphy. Pingree, 59, is a former state senator and head of the liberal nonprofit Common Cause who first won election to the 1st District seat in 2008. Misiuk, 25, is a former Realtor making the big leap to a major race after holding a leadership position with the Cumberland County Young Republicans and getting party experience as a field director for the College Republican National Committee while a student at the University of Southern Maine. Murphy, 36, is a National Guardsman casting himself as “a public servant, not a politician,” and a constitutional purist who calls for state sovereignty.
The Issues: Pingree is unapologetically liberal, vocally supportive of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and gun control measures like stricter record-keeping standards for gun shows and bans on large-capacity ammunition feeders. Misiuk has blasted the ACA and has criticized Congress for raising the federal debt ceiling and borrowing from the Social Security fund, saying lawmakers should have instead cut spending. Murphy has similarly expressed right-leaning stances against Obamacare and gun bans, but matches Pingree’s reluctance to send U.S. troops into foreign conflicts.
The Polls: There’s been relatively little polling released on the 1st District race, with a late June Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center showing 56 percent of respondents supporting Pingree and 21 percent backing Misiuk — Murphy was not listed. Pingree and Misiuk were tied at 26 percent among unenrolled voters, with another 36 percent of those voters undecided.
The Money: During the most recent federal filing period, which ended June 30, Pingree raised just over $303,000, with nearly $314,000 cash on hand. Misiuk raised just over $15,000 by the June 30 filing deadline, but ended the period with just under $1,300 cash on hand. Pingree is listed among the wealthiest members of Congress and is married to billionaire investor Donald Sussman. The Federal Election Commission has not posted fundraising reports for Murphy.
What to expect: Most Maine political analysts consider Pingree the overwhelming favorite, with the public polling and campaign finance figures leaning heavily in her favor — not to mention the advantage of incumbency in a congressional district that has been represented by a Democrat for 25 of the last 27 years. Pingree has won by a wider margin each time she’s run for the seat, easily dispatching well-known Republicans Charlie Summers and Jonathan Courtney along the way. With Misiuk and Murphy likely to draw from the same pool of small-government voters, it may be hard for either to build the base necessary to give Pingree a scare.
Debate: The BDN and CBS13 will host a 1st District candidate debate on Monday, Oct. 6. The debate will be broadcast live on television and streamed on bangordailynews.com.
2nd District U.S. House
The Race: State Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono, is squaring off against Republican Bruce Poliquin, the former state treasurer and previous candidate for governor and U.S. Senator. Cain defeated fellow state Sen. Troy Jackson in the Democratic primary and Poliquin bested former Senate President Kevin Raye. They are seeking to replace U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who is the Democratic nominee for governor.
Cain is a rising member of the Maine Democratic Party, having rounded out her state legislative service with a term in leadership. Poliquin, who helped build New York City-based asset management firm Avatar Investors Associates Corp., is a fiscal and social conservative who’s been a close ally of Gov. Paul LePage during the governor’s four years in office.
Blaine Richardson, a tea party conservative, initially announced plans to run as a Republican, but then entered the race as an independent. His presence could siphon some arch-conservative voters — especially those with strong gun-rights positions — away from Poliquin.
The Issues: Cain and Poliquin don’t agree on much. Social issues, like abortion and same-sex marriage, will likely become a campaign topic, according to supporters of each candidate. Poliquin has also used his personal story — his wife died tragically, leaving him to raise his son as a single father — to connect with voters and explain his anti-abortion stance. Poliquin, though, has been branded as a carpetbagger: His primary residence is in Georgetown, which is in Maine’s 1st Congressional District, although he owns and has been living in his family home in Oakland to establish residency in the 2nd District, although residency is not a requirement to represent a congressional district.
Cain is a popular legislator with strong connections in her district at the University of Maine, where she works. The common themes to emerge in this race will likely be disagreement over government spending and taxes and who has the best plan to grow the economy in northern Maine.
The Polls: The latest polling, conducted by the Portland Press Herald in June, showed that Cain held a slight lead over Poliquin. That poll of 222 people had Cain winning 44 percent and Poliquin with 39 percent. But in August, the Washington Post predicted that Poliquin had a 64 percent chance of winning the election. Their prediction was not based on a poll, but on a formula that uses election data that reaches back more than 30 years.
The Money: As of July 15, when the second quarter of 2014 ended, Cain had raised $870,000 and Poliquin $820,000.
What to expect: A close race, and a new choice for CD2 voters. Poliquin and Cain represent opposite ends of the political spectrum. For a district noted for sending moderates to office, both Democrat and Republican — Michaud, John Baldacci, Olympia Snowe — the choice between Cain and Poliquin could be a telling sign for how the district’s politics have changed and will change in years to come. Maine’s CD2 seat has also been a launching pad for many of the state’s political luminaries, so the winner here could be on the fast track to even higher office.
Debate: The BDN and CBS13 will host a candidate debate between Cain and Poliquin on Tuesday, Oct. 14. The debate will be broadcast live on television and streamed on bangordailynews.com.
The Race: Voters will decide “yes” or “no” on Question 1: “Do you want to ban the use of bait, dogs or traps in bear hunting except to protect property, public safety, or for research?” If the citizen-driven initiative passes, bear hunters and guides will no longer be allowed to use these three methods — bait, dogs and snare traps — in hunting Maine’s black bears.
The group leading the campaign in support of the ban is Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, which is endorsed by numerous animal welfare organizations and humane societies, such as Wildlife Alliance of Maine, Animal Welfare Society and Spay Maine.
In opposition of the ban is campaign group Save Maine’s Bear Hunt and Management Programs, which is endorsed by a long list of outdoor organizations, including the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Maine Professional Guides Association, National Rifle Association and Maine Trappers Association. The opposition is also endorsed by North Maine Woods, Maine Farm Bureau, Maine Woods Coalition and Maine Tourism Association. Also in opposition of the referendum are all three 2014 candidates for Maine governor and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
The Issues: Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting urge a “yes” vote. They believe bear baiting, hounding and trapping are cruel, unnecessary and unsportsmanlike practices. Furthermore, they believe that the use of bear bait — which can be a variety of food, including old pastries, raw meat, frosting and oats — is inflating the state’s bear population and causing more bear nuisance problems.
Save Maine’s Bear Hunt and Management Practices argues that bait, dogs and traps are necessary tools to control Maine’s bear population, which state biologists predict is currently about 30,000 bears. Without these methods, they said, the black bear population will climb in Maine, leading to more human-bear conflicts. They also argue that these hunting methods are sporting and fair, pointing to the fact that only 1 in 4 hunters are currently successful in hunting bear in Maine.
Both sides of the debate are making predictions about the economic impact a ban on these hunting methods would have on Maine. More than half of the hunters pursuing black bear in Maine each year come from out of state, and they hire Maine Guides and outfitters to aid them in their hunts.
The Polls: A spring poll by Pan Atlantic Group SMS of Portland showed a rejection of Question 1 leading by thin two-point margin.
The Money: Since 2013, Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting has raised about $1.55 million in cash and about $230,000 in-kind contributions, according to the Maine Campaign Finance website. The group has spent approximately $980,000. The majority of these funds are direct contributions from the Humane Society of the United States.
In the same timeframe, the opposition, which includes nine working groups, has raised about $1.47 million in cash and $120,000 in-kind contributions, according to the Maine Campaign Finance website. Together, the groups have spent approximately $610,000.
What to expect: A close vote. An identical referendum appeared on Maine’s November 2004 ballot, and voters defeated it 53 percent to 47 percent.
Debate: The BDN and CBS13 will host a town hall meeting on Maine’s bear baiting referendum on Tuesday, Sept. 2 at the CBS13 Studio in Portland. The debate will be broadcast live on television and streamed on bangordailynews.com. To apply to attend the meeting, visit wgme.com/news/features/vote/townhall/.
BDN writers Christopher Cousins, Nell Gluckman, Seth Koenig and Aislinn Sarnacki contributed to this report.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Sunday, Aug. 31 to clarify Sen. Susan Collins’ spent grains advertisement was one of her first, not the first, and to include a link to a spring poll on Question 1.