AUGUSTA, Maine — On Tuesday, Emily Cain made it official: Her aspirations to serve in Congress did not end in November with her loss to Republican Bruce Poliquin.
Citing continued encouragement from supporters, Cain, an Orono Democrat who served 10 years in the Maine Legislature, announced Tuesday that she would try again to win Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat in 2016, barely four months after her 2014 bid ended in defeat. Political campaigns seem to start earlier every year, but even rumored presidential contenders haven’t yet made it official.
So what’s the advantage of Cain’s early announcement?
Poliquin is already campaigning.
— Poliquin has stormed into Congress and whether you agree with him or not, he is working hard to make a name for himself. Republican leadership helped him considerably by appointing him to the influential House Committee on Financial Services, a position from which Poliquin can raise piles of campaign cash and involve himself in high-profile governance.
— Though Poliquin won the seat convincingly — even with conservative independent Blaine Richardson pulling 11 percent of the vote — he is positioning himself as pragmatic and, perhaps in some voters’ eyes, more moderate than originally expected. Even if it did not affect the eventual outcome of the U.S. House vote, he demonstrated a willingness to break with conservative Republicans in Congress with his vote last month against a bill that sought to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which made him one of only three Republicans who have EVER voted that way. Despite that, Poliquin continues to favor repealing the health care law if there is a viable alternative in the wings.
— Poliquin posted a message on his Facebook page Tuesday afternoon that ended with a request for donations. “[Cain’s] policies harm jobs,” said Poliquin, repeating what he said over and over again during the 2014 campaign. “I have only been in office for a few weeks, yet there is so much more work to do. I know I must earn your trust. Emily Cain is counting on pro-carbon tax, pro-big government national donors to get her started. I am counting on you.”
It puts her in a position to fire away directly at Poliquin’s actions in Congress.
— Poliquin’s congressional staff is aggressively marketing his every move to the media and he has been the subject of a healthy amount of state and national attention. Being involved in an active campaign against Poliquin puts Cain in a position to comment on and criticize everything he does.
— This kind of freedom allows her to compare what she’d do in Congress with what Poliquin does. That’s a much more powerful dynamic than trying to stake out her beliefs hypothetically, as was the case in the 2014 election. Of course, it also allows Poliquin to respond, but doing so would leave him open to criticism that he’s politicking when he should be governing, playing into the “do-nothing” Congress trope.
She can start socking money away.
— Though she’ll have some relatively minor overhead expenses in the coming months, including salaries for campaign workers she says she’s recruiting, Cain’s campaign won’t have to start writing big checks, primarily for media buys, for something like 18 months. More time to raise money openly without having to spend a lot leads to a bigger pile of cash later, which is hardly a ground-shattering revelation.
— The national Democrats are already on Cain’s side. Less than two weeks after her November 2014 defeat, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, led by Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, identified Cain among a short list of 2016 contenders who could help Democrats re-establish control of Congress. Cash from groups like the DCCC won’t start rolling for a while, but for Cain, that sort of national attention should make it easier to solicit money from out-of-state donors interested in knocking off a first-term GOP incumbent in a district that Democrats held for two decades before Poliquin’s 2014 victory.
Cain’s early announcement could head off other Democrats — or at least force their hand.
— There’s no question that campaigning in a primary election is a costly and sometimes damaging burden. There’s also little chance of a Republican mounting a serious challenge to a sitting congressman for the GOP’s nomination. Cain’s easiest path to victory is through an uncontested primary.
— Being first to announce makes Cain, by default, the front-runner and feeds a narrative that other potential candidates — former Maine Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson ran against her in 2014 and Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci has been mentioned as a contender — would be challenging her. Any Democrat who comes out against Cain now would have to play catch-up in courting support from state and national Democratic donors. A more likely scenario, if there is a Democrat in central or northern Maine with congressional aspirations, would be for that person to run as an independent. That comes with its own challenges, but could easily derail Cain’s chances.
The electoral landscape could favor Cain more in 2016 than it did last year. Or not.
— Presidential election years typically bring out more voters than the midterms, though Maine presented an anomaly on that front last year. Maine had the highest-percentage voter turnout of any state in the U.S. in 2014. At nearly 60 percent, it was well ahead of the national average of less than 37 percent. However, the 617,000 people who voted in Maine last year was far lower than the 725,000 who voted in 2012. Past history indicates that an expected turnout spike in 2016 could benefit Cain.
— Democratic candidates in Maine usually fare better in presidential election years, according to data from the Secretary of State’s Office. The number of Democrats elected to the Maine House and Senate increased after every presidential election dating back two decades, with the exception of the House in 2004 and the Senate in 2000.
— If Hillary Clinton runs for president, as almost every national political observer expects, it could energize unenrolled women inclined to vote for more liberal candidates, which would obviously help Cain. However, the party that has been out of the White House for eight years — the GOP in 2016 — usually has a slight advantage in an open contest. A majority of Maine’s 2nd District voters has backed the Democratic presidential candidate in every election since 1992, but there are recent signs that the district is swinging a little more Republican, not the least of which is Poliquin’s election.