A well-orchestrated, well-publicized 350-mile walk across Maine certainly creates a buzz around a candidate who is the clear underdog in this fall’s U.S. Senate race. But Democrat Shenna Bellows’ three-week trek from Houlton to Kittery — and through every town along the way — also brings national politics to the front yards of voters and the local businesses they frequent.
While her rival, Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, finishes out the Senate’s summer session, Bellows is exploiting the popular sentiment that Congress is fully disconnected and disengaged from the nation’s small towns and the needs of their residents. During a stop in Bangor on Tuesday, Bellows called for action to provide rural areas with universal cellphone coverage and high-speed Internet access following her stretch through northern Maine, where availability of both telecommunications services is inconsistent at best.
As she walks through towns such as Smyrna Mills, Dyer Brook, Mattawamkeag and Millinocket, Bellows is running for the U.S. Senate in a way that is more similar to how one would run for a state legislative seat in a district of 9,000 people. (At the same time, Bellows has taken to the airwaves with TV advertising to get her message out to a wider audience.)
More than anything, Bellows’ 350-mile walk shows the former director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine is putting her all into a campaign many have written off, and she is conducting it as though she has nothing to lose.
That’s important, because Bellows can’t rely on several ideological allies to whom a Democratic candidate would traditionally look for support. The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights organization, and the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund have thrown their support to Collins, sensing a greater value in keeping a rare Republican ally on several key issues, rather than taking a chance on Bellows.
While the latest polling shows Bellows trailing Collins by 35 points, Bellows told the BDN’s editorial board Tuesday she sees her task as getting more voters to know her (because few do), like her, then commit to voting for her.
Whether Bellows can turn that into a winning formula or not, she at least can be proud of the tenacity of her underdog campaign.