Politics & Other Mistakes: The microbes march on

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The U.S. Senate race between Republican incumbent Sen. Susan Collins and her Democratic challenger, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, is a complex biological organism, influenced not only by the campaigns of the aforementioned major party candidates, but by assorted germs, viruses, and the occasional parasite.

Forget about COVID-19. The political futures of Collins and Gideon have tested positive for an assortment of infections from the political fringes.

Let’s start with Betsy Sweet, who ran an aggressive campaign for the Democratic Senate nomination as a champion of the party’s progressive wing, finishing a distant second in the July primary. Since then, Sweet has been undetectable. Breaking with tradition, she didn’t follow up her trouncing by graciously endorsing Gideon.

Sweet has been courted by Green-turned-independent Lisa Savage, whose platform is roughly the same as Sweet. The two support Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, positions Gideon hasn’t backed. So why doesn’t Sweet follow the lead of the third candidate in the Dem primary, Bre Kidman, and endorse Savage?

Kidman (who identifies as non-binary and doesn’t use pronouns that denote sex) is a chronically marginal character in Maine politics, with little chance of ever successfully running for anything. Abandoning the donkey party for Savage doesn’t harm Kidman’s political future because there’s no such thing. 

Sweet’s situation is more complicated.

She has deep ties within the Democratic Party. While she’s now lost two statewide Dem primaries and her chances of ever winning a major election appear bleak, she earns her living by lobbying a Legislature controlled by Democrats. Rejecting Gideon, who currently holds a small lead in the polls, would do severe damage to Sweet’s livelihood because the party faithful are inclined to hold a grudge.

“They can be spiteful if they feel you betrayed the clan,” said one political insider. “She’s a lobbyist, so she can’t afford to do that.”

Nevertheless, Sweet and Kidman could have an influence on the outcome of the Senate race. If by being active or passive-aggressive, they divert enough votes to Savage to allow Collins to squeak across the 50 percent line, there’ll be no ranked-choice runoff. They’ll have cost Gideon the election.

Collins, however, has her own annoying bacteria to deal with.

Max Linn, a retired financial planner from Bar Harbor who only moved to Maine three years ago, is running as an independent. In 2018, Linn was a Republican Senate candidate who failed to qualify for the ballot because some people who allegedly signed his nominating petitions turned out to be dead. Before that, Linn lived in Florida, where he ran for office as a Democrat and a Reform Party member.

When Linn announced his latest candidacy, he proclaimed himself a pro-Trump alternative to Collins. Since bizarre stunts are a prime indication of pro-Trumpiness, he qualifies. In late July, he announced he was dropping out of the race. A few days later, Linn revealed that wasn’t exactly the case. He announced he’d only quit if Collins endorsed several policies he’s promoting.

At least one of those issues is solidly Trumpian, a five-year ban on all immigration. Another, wiping out all student education debt, seems more in line with the Greens, one of the few parties Linn has yet to register in. And Linn’s call to oppose the Central Maine Power Co. transmission line through western Maine may have populist appeal, but it isn’t an issue that Congress gets to vote on.

Linn claims he was threatened by the GOP establishment in an effort to make him drop out. He released a text message from former Republican state Chairman Charlie Webster that read, “Your options are limited. You run, get destroyed based on something you’ve said or done, spend hundreds of thousands more, lose badly and are shortly forgotten.”

That clumsy attempt at inoculating Collins’ campaign against Mad Max disease failed. Linn is still festering. The few votes he might draw away from the senator in November could prove crucial in Collins’ quest to avoid letting ranked-choice decide the race.

And there’s no chance of a vaccine before the election.

Wash your hands of the whole mess by emailing [email protected].

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