Politics & Other Mistakes: Sweet nothings

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When it comes to the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in Maine, the bigtime political knowers from away are all quite certain about the winner.

These experts came to their nearly unanimous conclusions after maybe visiting Maine once or twice, sipping a couple of craft beers, having a nice lobster dinner at a fancy Portland restaurant and buying some moose turd earrings.

Obviously, that’s more than enough research.

In January, Roll Call did a piece on the outside money being used to attack incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. The only Collins opponent worth a mention in the article was state House Speaker Sara Gideon.

Late in 2019, the Boston Globe informed us that Collins “is poised to face her most serious Democratic challenger ever – the Maine House speaker, who outraised Collins by more than a million dollars in the third quarter.”

Likewise, Politico called Gideon “formidable” and “battle-tested.” Bloomberg reported, “National Democrats have settled on Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon as their choice to take on Collins.” The Hill proclaimed, “Collins is facing off against Maine state House Speaker Sara Gideon, who has the full-throated support of Democrats.”

It’s possible somebody’s throat is full of hooey.

Has the pundit class now been chosen to select our nominee for us? Or did I just miss the primary?

No, a quick check with the secretary of state’s office confirms that Democrats will decide who runs against Collins at the polls on June 9. The SOS also confirmed that there are four announced candidates in that race. In addition to Gideon, they are Bre Kidman, a lawyer from Saco; former Google bigshot Ross LaJeunesse of Biddeford, and Betsy Sweet, a Hallowell lobbyist who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2018.

While it’s true that the national Democratic establishment has endorsed Gideon, a strict reading of Maine law reveals the national Democratic establishment doesn’t get to vote in the primary. That means folks who actually live here could choose somebody else to take on Collins.

Is that likely? No, not particularly. A Colby College poll shows Gideon with a commanding lead in the primary, but a different result isn’t freakishly out of the question.

The first hint that Gideon might not win is that almost nobody is excited about her, because she’s an overly cautious example of old-school Dem thinking. Sort of Joe Biden with less brain fog. She skirts controversial issues like the Green New Deal or Medicare For All like they were dog poop on her rose-petal-strewn path to the nomination. It’s tough to find a Bernie Bro, a Warren rabbit or any Democrat younger than 40 who’s energized by the idea of replacing Collins with somebody who reminds them so much of Collins.

The second hint is that there’s stuff going on in Maine politics at the grassroots level that the national media couldn’t be bothered to examine. Admittedly, some of this isn’t particularly important, such as Kidman choosing a guillotine for a campaign logo. With no money and a campaign platform well to the left of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Kidman is solidly positioned to be a nonfactor.

LaJeunesse is said to have money, but his base of support seems to be national LGBTQ groups and West Coast techies. There’s also the small problem that nobody in this state has ever heard of him.

That leaves Sweet, who’s been all but invisible to the keen outside observers of Maine politics. On a limited budget, she’s kept up a relentless campaign focused on activists turned off by the wimpy Gideon. This small group’s commitment to their left-wing causes is enormous. They’re the sort of people who’ll go to party caucuses. The kind who are elected delegates to the state convention. And most importantly, the type that turns out to vote in primaries. They count for a lot more than their polling numbers indicate.

That might not be enough to prove the foreign pontificators wrong in anointing Gideon as the nominee. But then again it might.

And wouldn’t that be … er … sweet.

Don’t sugarcoat comments emailed to [email protected].

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