The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Political forecasters accurately predicted historic spending in Maine’s 2020 U.S. Senate race. However, the massive accumulation of roughly $90 million by the campaigns of Sen. Susan Collins and Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, and the onslaught of attack ads between the two, has still managed to shatter our expectations. Our normally mild-mannered state has been home to the most negative Senate race in the country.
Many of the seemingly non-stop ads are a serious and consequential symptom of our flawed campaign finance system and a political discourse that values noise over nuance.
So, it was refreshing to see a recent video of parody attack ads traded between two Maine weather forecasters who managed to mix humor with a spot-on assessment of the situation.
For all the grief meteorologists get about blown forecasts (they can accurately predict a 5-day forecast 90 percent of the time, by the way), Keith Carson and Todd Gutner from News Center Maine have correctly captured the political winds sweeping through Maine right now. Their spoof attack ad video is worth a watch. We predict a 90 percent chance of at least a chuckle.
“Question: what’s your least favorite New England state? Correct, Connecticut. Did you know Todd Gutner is from Connecticut?” Carson’s fake ad against his coworker says, using one of those all-too-familiar ominous voice overs. “He eats his lobster rolls warm. And did you ever notice his weekend forecasts are always rosy? Well, he took $7.50, a logo poncho and a key chain from the Boothbay Chamber of Commerce in 2013. That dark money has certainly clouded his judgment.”
Gutner doesn’t pull any (fake) punches in his ad.
“Keith Carson grew a beard to cover up his face. What else is he hiding?” it asks with alarm. “Keith Carson hates children. His son is nothing but a political stunt.”
These parody attack ads aren’t far off from the reality we’ve been seeing daily on our TV screens and online. As both Collins and Gideon try to highlight their bipartisan credentials, just about the only bipartisan agreement we’ve seen from these two campaigns is their mutual use of almost constant attacks of dubious accuracy against each other.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Independent candidate Lisa Savage has more completely rejected corporate funding sources and support, and made campaign finance reform a defining part of how she operates her campaign. She hasn’t just been talking about the changes she would support as a senator, she’s been demonstrating them as a candidate. She’s proven that even though candidates are allowed to raise astronomical sums of money and spend it on factually challenged attack ads, that doesn’t mean they have to (though there wasn’t ever much threat of her raising that kind of money).
Bre Kidman, one of Gideon’s past opponents in the Democratic primary, offered an important reminder about how campaign funds can be used beyond conventional politicking. Kidman dedicated most of their primary campaign funds to direct aid, like buying groceries for people in need. That approach became even more impactful during a global pandemic.
Gideon has raised at least $63.6 million and began October with $22.7 million on hand. Collins has raised at least $25.2 million with $6.6 million left. When factoring in the nearly $70 million in independent expenditures in that race that have come from groups other than the candidates’ campaigns, Maine’s U.S. Senate race has seen over $150 million. That looks less like a campaign total and more like a small economic stimulus.
Of course, a lot of that money is finding its way into the Maine economy one way or another. Newspapers like the BDN and TV stations like News Center Maine where Carson and Gutner work certainly see ad revenue as a result. We’re not bystanders in the campaign system by any means. But there should be little doubt that the current system and the way most candidates choose to operate in it reflect a mixed-up set of priorities.
In our forecast for the next week and a half, we don’t envision Collins and Gideon appearing in an ad together before election day saying they can “debate issues without degrading each other’s character,” as the Republican and Democratic candidates in Utah’s race for governor just admirably did. But we do continue to hope Collins and Gideon would put more of their significant campaign resources toward directly helping Maine people during this difficult and uncertain time.