AUGUSTA, Maine — The slate of candidates is set for November’s legislative contests, and both sides are claiming the upper hand as the battle for control of the Maine Legislature heats up.
While their rhetoric on the issues might sound different, both of Maine’s major political parties are sounding largely the same as they assess their prospects for electoral success in November.
Republicans say they’re in a strong position to maintain — and even grow — their majorities in both the House and Senate, while Democrats say it’s their year to wrest legislative control back from the Republicans two years after losing it.
Both parties are boasting that they’ve recruited candidates who are average people, rather than professional politicians.
“This year, more than any year in the past, these are average, middle-class, working people who are running for office because they’re frustrated by the direction they see the state going,” Maine Democratic Party spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt said of her party’s legislative candidates. “These are the folks who make up your communities.”
“We did a much better job of recruiting candidates that fit the districts in Maine,” said Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster. “We recruited blue-collar workers, retired school teachers, plumbers, barbers, waitresses — just regular people that your neighbor would vote for.”
On fundraising, both parties say they have a solid base of small-time, grassroots donors.
Webster said a national direct mail firm the Maine GOP uses told him, “We have increased our small-donor participants more than any other state [Republican party] in the entire country.”
Reinholt said, “We have a lot of grassroots donors who are giving to us, people throughout Maine who want to see us take back the House and the Senate.”
Campaign finance reports submitted this past week show Maine’s Democratic party outraised the state Republican party during the most recent reporting period, May 30 through July 17.
The Democrats took in $253,000, which included a $100,000 gift from S. Donald Sussman, the billionaire financier and husband of 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.
The Republicans took in $194,000, which included $80,000 from billionaire Colorado media mogul John Malone, $70,000 from Houston businessman and Southport summer resident Ed Bosarge and $30,000 from White Rock Distilleries CEO Paul Coulombe.
Both parties are quick to say that the other side has a distinct advantage when it comes to sinking large amounts of money into campaigns.
“There’s always that chance of super-late money coming in,” Reinholt said, referring to nearly $400,000 an outside Republican group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, spent less than two weeks before the 2010 election to help Republicans in five state Senate contests. “That’s always a major concern we have to think about.”
The Maine Ethics Commission fined that group $26,000 for late and inaccurate reporting of its spending.
And Republicans have to worry about Democratic cash infusions from Sussman, Webster said.
“The only thing I’m concerned about is that Sussman will give them $500,000,” he said. “The good thing is that money doesn’t beat quality candidates.”
When it comes to candidates, Democrats have fewer of them than Republicans.
The Democrats have no candidates in nine House races and two Senate races. Republicans have no candidates in four House races and two Senate races.
The House races where Democrats have no candidates are all in districts that elected Republicans in 2010. One of the Senate races is District 12, where Democrats didn’t find one of their own to compete for a seat that’s currently held by Democrat Bill Diamond.
Reinholt said the nine House races Democrats aren’t contesting are no reason for concern.
“I’d rather have 142 really strong House candidates rather than 151 mediocre candidates just to have names on the ballot,” Reinholt said.
Either way you slice it, though, the Democrats are fighting an uphill battle as they try to regain legislative control, said Ethan Strimling, a former Democratic state senator from Portland and a Bangor Daily News political analyst.
“It’s a tough road for Democrats,” he said. “It’s always harder to win back the majority when you’ve lost it.”