PORTLAND, Maine — A crowded GOP field splits the vote, helping a tea-party backed conservative win the primary. Then an independent candidate creates a three-way race in which the Republican emerges with a victory in November.
That was the path Paul LePage followed to the Blaine House in 2010.
And a similar path is unfolding in the U.S. Senate race for Scott D’Amboise, who faces a six-way primary following a scramble that accompanied Olympia Snowe’s exit from the Senate.
At the end of the day, Snowe’s departure changed the electoral math in a way that may have helped the conservative D’Amboise, said Mark Brewer, political science professor at the University of Maine.
“If they split up that moderate or establishment Republican vote, and D’Amboise locks down the conservative vote, then he gets the nomination,” Brewer said. “If that field stays as is, he has a really good shot.”
But it could get more complicated because state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin is also going after tea party conservatives, the same base D’Amboise has been courting for the past two years.
Campaigning against Snowe, D’Amboise has been meeting one-on-one with voters, painting himself as an anti-establishment candidate and shoring up support in the Republican Party’s conservative base.
Her abrupt departure threw him for a loop.
He watched in frustration as the cards were reshuffled, with five GOP candidates ultimately joining him in the race: Attorney General William Schneider, Secretary of State Charlie Summers, state Sen. Debra Plowman and former state Sen. Rick Bennett, in addition to Poliquin.
Things didn’t change much in the end, D’Amboise said.
“We were running against the establishment before. We’re running against the establishment again. If the people vote any of those five in, they’re going to get another Olympia Snowe,” D’Amboise said.
D’Amboise is an eye technician, small business owner and former town councilor in Lisbon. He has raised more than $500,000 but it’s unclear how much remains. Campaign finance disclosures are due at the end of the month.
He’s not widely known outside Lisbon, but neither was Paul LePage outside of Waterville, where he was mayor.
LePage’s campaign caught fire at the Republican State Convention, and he provided one of the conservative alternatives to the moderate candidates in what was a seven-way GOP primary.
After his primary victory, he went on to defeat Democrat Libby Mitchell and independent Eliot Cutler. The GOP Senate primary winner will face independent Angus King, along with the Democratic nominee.
Brent Littlefield, who’s an adviser to LePage, disagreed with the notion of history repeating itself, saying that LePage had broader support than most give him credit for. “While LePage had the backing of some tea party groups, he actually drew from a large bucket of voters,” Littlefield said.
Beth Wallinga, a tea party activist and chairwoman of the Old Town Republicans, is a D’Amboise supporter. But she’s not convinced that the larger field helps him.
Before, Wallinga said, D’Amboise was capitalizing on polarization in the GOP between conservatives and those frustrated with the more liberal Snowe.
With a larger field, some of the anti-Snowe vote could be divided among the six candidates, she said. Poliquin, for his part, is also seeking support from tea party activists, kicking off his campaign a week ago at a Knox-Lincoln County Tea Party event in Warren.
D’Amboise is still working part time but will soon join the campaign full time. Already, he has adjusted his sights to the new competition, which he refers to as the “carpetbaggers five.”
“Where was their heart? Where was their courage to run against Senator Snowe? I am the one who has done all the work. I am the one who has had from the beginning the heart, the courage, conviction and principles. People shouldn’t settle for anything less,” he said.