Politics & Other Mistakes: Crash landing

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The roadside sign read “Ed Thelander.”

What the hell is an Ed Thelander, I wondered.

Could the sign have a spacing problem? Was it really advertising “Ed The Lander,” the nickname for the final stage of Elon Musk’s Mars project bringing the first colonists from their orbiting spaceship down to the Martian surface?

Al DiamonOr maybe Ed The Lander was a spinoff from the TV show “Outlander,” but instead of a nurse from World War II being thrust back to the 19th century, it was about a politician from the 21st Century stuck in the 1950s.

It turned out neither of these was correct, although the second one has a bit of the truth in it. Ed Thelander is actually a conservative Republican running for Congress in Maine’s 1st District. He’s attempting to defeat incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree by following the playbook established by a bunch of rightfully forgotten GOP losers dating back to when Pingree first won the seat in 2008.

As nearly everyone except the folks who pick Republican congressional candidates knows, the 1st District is liberal. The best the GOP has ever done against Pingree was in her initial race, when Republican moderate Charlie Summers collected just over 45% of the vote. After that, the pachyderm party decided hard right-wingers might have more appeal.

They didn’t. Dean Scontras ran an aggressive campaign in 2010, but finished two points below Summers. He was followed by such trivia-question answers as Jonathan Courtney (2012, 35%), Isaac Misiuk (2014, just over 30%), Mark Holbrook (almost 42% in 2016, but less than 33% in 2018) and Jay Allen (not quite 38% in 2020). Most of them opposed gay rights, abortion, legal marijuana, immigration and any hint of government regulation of the private sector. In other words, they were proudly out of step with the voters.

Thelander, a retired Navy SEAL and reserve deputy sheriff from Bristol, fits nicely into this long line of losers. He kicked off his campaign in August of last year by criticizing Democrats for supporting enhanced unemployment benefits due to the COVID pandemic. He then embraced a novel strategy of vanishing from public perception for over a year, finally holding his first press conference in September.

At that event, Thelander, who refers to himself “a life-long public servant but never a politician,” accused Pingree of “causing hate and disrespect” for law enforcement by voting for legislation that called for better police training in dealing with minorities and people with mental-health issues, an end to no-knock warrants and allowing civil suits against officers who misbehave. He claimed that vote was to blame for an increase in violent crime in Portland.

At a rally for lobstermen last week, Thelander referred to federal regulators seeking to protect right whales as “rapists.” During a subsequent debate, he was forced to apologize. He also had to walk back his support for absurd conspiracy theories (voter fraud in Bridgton, kids dressed as cats being provided with litter boxes in Maine schools) after the Portland Press Herald reported on claims he made to right-wing media.

Thelander’s online presence is minimal and amateurish. His real-world campaigning consists of below-the-radar appearances at county fairs and Republican fundraisers. His position on any given issue seems to be opposition to anything Democrats support.  Nevertheless, his website claims, “He is respected for his ability to bring feuding sides together.”

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to criticize Pingree’s long and undistinguished tenure in Congress. She’s always voted in lockstep with Democratic leadership, and in spite of her increasing seniority, she’s never been considered a major player on issues of national importance. But as history has repeatedly demonstrated, Pingree isn’t going to be displaced by some nonentity who’s out of step with the district on social issues.

As long as the GOP insists on running Bruce Poliquin clones against her, Pingree will keep on winning elections, unless she makes an ill-considered decision to run for governor in 2026 (her disastrous 2002 campaign for the U.S. Senate showed she had almost no appeal to anyone north of Augusta). Otherwise, she can stay in the House of Representatives until she or it expires.

Once the November vote adds Thelander’s name to the roll call of Republicans Who Should Have Known Better Than to Put Themselves in This Humiliating Position, he can take solace in the fact that, like his predecessors, he’ll soon be forgotten.

Want to be the 2024 GOP candidate for Congress? Get help by emailing [email protected].


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