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Phil Harriman, a former town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth, is the founding partner of Lebel & Harriman, a financial services firm. Ethan Strimling, a former mayor and state senator from Portland, is the president of Swing Hard. Turn Left, which promotes progressive policy at the local, state and national levels.
Ethan: Did you take a look at that poll I sent you by Survey USA?
Phil: I did. It sure indicates at this point in time that Gov. Janet Mills is vulnerable to a hypothetical primary challenge by Senate President Troy Jackson.
Ethan: She also is vulnerable to former Gov. Paul LePage, in relation to how strong Jackson might be against him.
Phil: Makes me wonder if Democrats see that Mills may not be your strongest candidate in 2022?
Ethan: According to the poll, they don’t, but we’ll get to that later. Here’s the deal, as your man Joe Biden would say, the poll sampled 1,242 voters, has a margin of error of 3.5 percent, and was paid for by Swing Hard, Turn Left, a progressive organization of which I am president. The poll sought to get unbiased feedback on whether Mainer agreed with Mills’ vetoes of progressive legislation, or if they agreed with Jackson’s support of the same bills.
Ethan: We wanted to get it right, not have it tell us what we wanted to hear.
Phil: Getting to the numbers, even I am surprised at how weak Mills appears to be: In a hypothetical Democratic primary, 44 percent of the 501 registered Democrats surveyed said they would vote for Jackson or were undecided, and Jackson quickly rises after the pollster shared basic factual information about the bills he supported and she vetoed, indicating even her initial support among Democrats appears to be very soft.
Ethan: Yes, it’s quite a shift. She starts the poll against Jackson just over 50 percent among Democrats, at 56 percent to 23 percent with 21 percent undecided, but then ends up down 44 percent to 34 percent after voters learn about their differences on the vetoed bills. A 43-point swing! And among most likely voters — those who initially liked her best — his lead is now 5 points.
Phil: Although the poll does not factor in attacks Jackson would see in a campaign, I honestly cannot imagine LePage being this vulnerable to any Republican based on his first-term vetoes.
Ethan: That’s because LePage’s vetoes were of bills Republicans and many independents agreed with. In Mills’ case, it’s just the opposite. Overall, only 23 percent of Democrats and 15 percent of independents support her vetoes, according to the poll. Specifically: Only 13 percent of Maine voters surveyed agree with her veto of Jackson’s bill that would have restricted prescription drug prices. Only 14 percent agree with her veto of Jackson’s bill to incentivize businesses to hire Maine workers. Only 16 percent agree with her position vetoing the bill to ban foreign governments from contributing to Maine elections. And, less than a third supported her vetoes of bills that would have: protected Maine workers from unfair contracts; given Maine tribes equal right to set up gaming activities; banned pesticides spraying in the north woods; created a consumer-owned utility; and taxed millionaire real-estate transactions at a fairer rate.
Phil: I understand a politician fulfilling their need to act on their conscience, but when your conscience appears to be so often at odds with a majority of the people, that can be a re-election problem. I will say, I was glad to see that a majority of Mainers did not oppose her veto of the bill to close the Maine youth center. More focus on this issue is needed.
Ethan: One interesting tidbit. Although her veto of the bill to provide renters with more than 30-days notice didn’t register as much overall opposition, 83 percent of Democrats who opposed this veto shifted to Jackson. So, what do you make of the fact that Mills’ best position against LePage is 46 percent to 41 percent versus Jackson topping him 51 percent to 35 percent after learning about Jackson’s positions on these bills?
Phil: Well, there is no scenario where I see LePage getting only 35 percent of the vote, so a chunk of those undecideds will come back. That said, Jackson being over 50 percent is concerning.
Ethan: The difference is that while LePage beats Mills in the 2nd Congressional District by 10 points, Jackson ends up winning the same by eight, according to this poll. His ability as a progressive Democrat to win Aroostook County (which Donald Trump won by 7,000 votes) gives him a decided advantage.
Phil: According to the poll, by almost two to one, voters who do not support LePage see Jackson as a stronger candidate. The pollsters didn’t test who LePage supporters feel is stronger, but as one, I would have to agree.
Ethan: So, if you were advising Jackson, would you encourage him to run?
Phil: Ideologically, I wouldn’t want him to because of how strong he appears, but as an analyst, I would. You?
Ethan: In the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, I’d tell him, don’t throw away your shot.