Rick Bennett isn’t going to be Maine’s next governor.
Bennett is probably what the state needs: a fiscal conservative with common sense and no pathological aversion to compromise. In other words, he’s 10 percent like current Gov. Paul LePage and 90 percent not.
One other difference: Bennett is pro-choice, LePage pro-life. With the U.S. Supreme Court likely to overturn or restrict Roe v. Wade, abortion is going to be a hot-button issue in the 2018 gubernatorial contest. In the Republican primary, where nearly all voters want it outlawed, there won’t be much tolerance for a candidate who believes otherwise.
That renders Bennett — an experienced and media-savvy politician, who retired last month as chairman of the Maine GOP, served as president of the state Senate and ran a credible campaign for Congress — unelectable.
Winning elections in this state used to be about attracting support from the center of the ideological spectrum, a now-mythical territory much like Shangri-La or an open table at Fore Street restaurant on a Saturday night. The new reality is everyone is polarized, fearful that giving any ground will allow fanatics (defined as anybody with different views) to rampage into power and trash every ideal you hold dear.
I can’t imagine how they developed such an outlandish phobia.
In any case, it spells curtains for Bennett and other moderates who dare enter the Republican scrum next year. No wonder GOP U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is considering abandoning her party label and running for governor as an Independent.
This altered landscape also blocks the path of state Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta (pro-choice, anti-LePage) and former House minority leader Josh Tardy of Newport (shows flashes of rationality, works as a lobbyist), as well as nonstarters like Deril Stubenrod of Clinton (unknown, spells name funny).
That leaves the GOP with three choices: 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, health and human services commissioner Mary Mayhew and Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, all of whom are unwaveringly conservative and utterly unacceptable to most voters in southern Maine.
On the Democratic side, it’s even more muddled. The merest hint of Clintonism is tantamount to treason. The minimum requirement is now a fiery socialist populism that’s distinguishable from Donald Trump’s approach only in that it costs more and annoys Mexico less.
Attorney General Janet Mills is the nominal frontrunner. Mills gets points with party stalwarts for standing up to LePage, but opposed legal pot and is suspected of harboring centrist sentiments. Like Bennett, Mills wouldn’t make a bad governor, but she’d make a bad primary candidate.
Adam Cote ran for the 1st District seat back in 2008. Since then, Cote may have done something to keep his name in the public consciousness, but it escaped my notice. A lawyer from Sanford, he used to be a middle-of-the-road Dem. If he still is, he’s out of touch with the times.
Adam Lee comes from a family with deep roots in Democratic politics. He’s all over the tube in commercials for his car dealerships. He has excellent hair. None of that matters to radical leftists.
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree might run if she can figure out a way to win even a handful of votes in northern Maine. Former House Speaker Mark Eves got his butt kicked repeatedly by LePage. As a political resume, that’s a little thin. Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap is pro-gun, which ain’t gonna play in the Dem primary. Former Senate minority leader Justin Alfond is liberal enough to win the nomination — and lose the general election by landslide numbers. Lucas St. Clair is politically savvy (he got his mom’s land next to Baxter State Park declared a national monument) and has financial backing (his mom is rich). But his mom is Roxanne Quimby, and nobody likes her.
Oh yeah, that guy who swore off running for governor, telling the Portland Press Herald he was “taking a vow of abstinence.” Someone should have told him condoms work better, because independent Eliot Cutler is again bloated with gubernatorial ambitions. Unfortunately, his moderate base no longer exists, so his third bid for the Blaine House looks like an abortion.