Pollsters call him an underdog. He has been derided as a “nobody,” has no experience in elected office and compared to his opponent, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, his campaign is vastly underfunded.
So why is Jason Levesque optimistic?
Because the 36-year-old man from Auburn has a plan to become the first Republican to represent the 2nd Congressional District since Olympia Snowe held the seat until her election to the Senate in 1994, and he thinks it is working, he said.
“When I started in this race, I was greener than green,” Levesque said recently. “I was just someone who wanted to make a difference. I would walk in a parade, and nobody would know who I was. [Campaigning] was like nailing air to the wall.”
Now, he says, he is getting recognized wherever he goes, and he finds hope in a September poll that shows that while Michaud still has a comfortable lead, the race is very much up for grabs.
The poll by the North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling showed that Michaud led Levesque, a marketing executive, 45 percent to 38 percent. Those numbers, the pollster said, show that the East Millinocket Democrat is vastly underperforming in the more Republican of the state’s two congressional districts.
“Michaud’s favorability rating is 41 percent,” Levesque said. “If you are a candidate of his experience and you are below 50 percent, you have an issue.”
Michaud’s campaign manager, Greg Olson, conceded recently that the congressman’s numbers aren’t as strong as Democrats would like them to be and that Michaud, a three-term incumbent, takes the Levesque candidacy seriously.
Levesque has clocked more than 62,000 miles of campaign travel in his own car and 2,500 in a campaign RV since he started canvassing the 2nd District, at 27,326 square miles the largest east of the Mississippi River, almost 1½ years ago, he said.
On the campaign trail, his style is affable, patient and self-deprecatingly humorous, which seems to play well in the mostly working-class district. In a June campaign stop at Smart’s True Value Hardware store in Lincoln, he introduced himself to owner Larry Smart and wondered if the three-generation business had a fourth generation available.
“Yeah, I do, but they’re not coming in to the business,” Smart said.
“I have a 4-year-old you can have. We can trade him in,” Levesque joked.
Levesque is quick to admit what he doesn’t know. A former U.S. Army infantry team leader and drill sergeant who said he comes from a “trailer-park existence,” Levesque speaks a smattering of Greek, peppers his conversation with Army anecdotes and terminology, and asks a lot of questions.
Listening, he said, will be an important part of his work if elected to Congress.
The people of Maine “understand the problems and the solutions and they want to feel empowered to raise a family and run a business or work a job and take care of their community,” Levesque said. “And they are looking for someone who can help them do that.”
Levesque has rolled out his positions gradually and not with any great detail, sticking instead to his core themes: Less government is good. The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is a failure. Businesses need freedom from government overregulation and voters from overtaxation. Personal initiative and responsibility bring the greatest rewards.
“We have to stop the damage being done to the country now — stop wasting money at the federal level and stop the growing national debt,” Levesque said. “We have to acknowledge what our priorities are in this country, develop a strategic plan for where we see the nation 10 years now, 20 years from now.”
Levesque offers these ideas:
• Repeal “Obamacare,” the president’s health care reform plan, and allow people to purchase health insurance across state lines, as with car insurance.
• Implement true tort reform to limit medical malpractice lawsuits. Cap civil court damage awards and require initial mediation to eliminate frivolous lawsuits.
• Allow small businesses to pool resources to get the same health insurance rates as large companies and allow all health-care expenditures, including insurance, to be tax-deductible.
• Reduce federal regulations and improve regulatory consistency, so that businesses and investors can have stability to make businesses grow. Also, reduce corporate taxes, which rank second highest in the world.
• Divert unspent stimulus funds, which total about $275 billion, to reduce the federal deficit.
• Allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, and encourage the development of nuclear power.
• Fast-track federal approvals of large-scale manufacturing development nationwide by cutting overregulation by the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Levesque said he is hopeful that his polling numbers will draw more campaign contributions, as well as money from the National Republican Congressional Committee and some big-name campaigners, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Michaud, meanwhile, had raised $760,621 by June 30 compared to Levesque’s $259,166 by the same date, according to federal campaign filings.
Yet Levesque’s optimism remains intact.
“I think this race is wide open,” he said.