Former Gov. Paul LePage (left) and Gov. Janet Mills. Credit: BDN composite

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Ding, ding.”

That was the start of the famous end scene of “Rocky III.” With the “Italian Stallion” having defeated Mr. T’s “Clubber Lang,” Rocky Balboa jumped into the ring for a sparring session with former nemesis Apollo Creed. Balboa let the former champ “ring the bell” to start the match.

Ding, ding.

The starting bell rang this week on Maine’s own heavyweight match. I wrote before that the LePage-Mills race will echo the Liston-Ali fight of yesteryear. And I predicted that the winner of Lewiston would be the winner statewide.

Both fighters came out swinging – metaphorically – this week with their campaign finance reports.  

The Fighter from Farmington, Gov. Janet Mills, posted a million dollar fundraising total for the period from July through December last year. Once you add that to her previous $500,000 haul, she has $1.3 million in the bank.  

Meanwhile, the Warrior from Waterville reported $900,000 raised with a bit more than $600,000 on hand. Given former Gov. Paul LePage’s later entry into the race and relatively low profile, it was a strong showing.  

On points alone, Mills gets the edge. But that is one round and we have a long way to go.

The “money race” in politics is one of those insider games. There is a cottage industry of folks who exist solely to fundraise, generating funds to re-hire themselves, to generate more funds. The phrase “self-licking ice cream cone” comes to mind.

Money is important in politics, like life. If you don’t have “enough,” things get remarkably harder.  

In our lives, research indicates that a financial inflection point exists where more money ceases to add to our happiness. Similarly, in politics, additional dollars can become unnecessary.

The prime example is Sara Gideon’s 2020 Senate campaign against Susan Collins. Maine’s incumbent senior senator raised an eye-popping $30 million. Gideon raised $75 million, ending the campaign with nearly $15 million in “leftover” cash. Her fundraising team was reportedly sending out emails on Election Day begging Democrats for donations.

As we all know, Collins won walking away with a greater than 8 percent margin of victory.

In 2010, LePage ranked third in fundraising among the “big three” candidates, reporting a total haul of $1.2 million. Democrat Libby Mitchell participated in the “clean elections” program, receiving about $1.5 million in taxpayer funding. Eliot Cutler won the 2010 financial race, exceeding $2 million in contributions.

As we all know, the Waterville mayor shocked the world – well, at least the state – and won.

In 2014, LePage was no longer the plucky, pugnacious underdog. Instead, he was a sitting governor. Cutler won the money race again, with Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud hot on his heels. Both gentlemen cracked the $3 million figure. LePage was far behind, just crossing the $2 million barrier.

The incumbent received a second term with 48 percent of the vote.

The 2018 gubernatorial campaign brought new faces, but still three prime candidates. Shawn Moody was the Republican and posted a $1.8 million haul. Mills, then attorney general, collected $2.8 million. Terry Hayes, the state treasurer, ran “clean” and received about $1.4 million from the state treasury.    

Mills made it to the Blaine House handily.

This is what makes handicapping the LePage-Mills race nearly impossible. Mills is the only Democrat over the past decade in a statewide campaign to win both the money race and the election. LePage has shown that fundraising is not his forte, but has nevertheless won time and again.

In short, money is important in politics, but it is not enough. Personalities and policies matter. Strap in; we’re in for a heckuva fight.

Ding, ding.

 


Michael Cianchette, Opinion columnist

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.