Politics & Other Mistakes: The phantom foe

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Sen. Susan Collins has a poltergeist problem.

For months, Collins, Maine’s Republican senior senator, has been flailing away at a ghost. Her reelection campaign has issued almost daily news releases detailing the alleged misdeeds of this specter. Her allies have spent untold millions filling the airwaves with warnings about the mischief this apparition plans to perpetrate. Rumor has it, Collins has even summoned priests to exorcise the demon that plagues her bid for a fifth term.

As anyone who’s ever watched a horror flick knows, none of that stuff works.

Numerous polls have shown Collins trailing her phantasmagorical opponent by about 5 percentage points. The reason for that gap is simple. Collins isn’t running against a real person. She’s being opposed by a wraith called “Not Susan Collins.”

In the earthly realm, official records list the Democratic Senate candidate as “Sara Gideon.” But even the people doing “Gideon’s” advertising seem aware there’s no such person. Full-page newspaper ads mention that name only in the disclaimer saying who paid for them. TV spots urge a vote for “Not Susan Collins” because that’s the best way to defeat GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or to thwart the Tax Evader-in-Thief. They may make some passing reference to this “Gideon,” but everyone knows the real alternative to the incumbent is a goblin.

The Boston Globe recently sent a reporter into the dark realm of central Maine. As mist shrouded the parking lot outside the eerily named George’s Banana Stand in Skowhegan, a voter who had previously supported Collins expressed her dismay. “She lost me,” the woman said. “I will definitely vote, and I will support … oh, jeepers.”

No doubt an unnatural chill interrupted her train of thought, although she did eventually come up with a name: “Sara Gideon.” The story doesn’t indicate whether she uttered those words in the zombie-like tones of the possessed.

Another voter in Cornville castigated Collins for her many transgressions before telling the Globe she planned to vote for “Sarah Palin.” Now, that’s scary.

Two people of my acquaintance informed me on different occasions they intended to cast their ballots for “what’s her face.” Perhaps they chose that expression because it’s best not to speak the name of the undead.

Collins and her team made a fundamental mistake in wasting time and money attacking a wisp of the wind. They don’t seem to understand that most Maine voters are turned off by their senator’s feeble efforts to counteract Trumpian evil. A large segment of the electorate perceives all Collins’ campaigning as nothing more than white noise, and they want to punish her for her wishy-washiness. So, they’re going to vote for … y’know.

Of course, the same criticisms could be leveled at “Gideon’s” relentless barrage of TV spots, which have succeeded in making her as much a household name as whoever’s in charge of Lebanon at the moment. The difference is it doesn’t matter for “Gideon.” She’s already well-positioned to collect votes intended for “Not Susan Collins.”

Collins can take some consolation in that she’s not the first Maine politician to be haunted by things that go bump in the voting booth. Her idol, Margaret Chase Smith, was ousted from her Senate seat in 1972 because she was widely perceived as having lost touch with the pulse of the living, many of whom were outraged over her unwavering support for the Vietnam war.

Her successor, Democrat William Hathaway, lasted just one term before it became apparent he wasn’t Margaret Chase Smith in drag.

And Republican James Longley Jr. won a seat in the U.S. House in 1994 on a platform that consisted entirely of being a reincarnation of his late father, the former independent governor. Two years later, when voters discovered their error, he was summarily buried.

There’s still time for Collins to redirect her campaign and repair her image. But it’s getting late, and the closer we get to Halloween, the more likely the voters are to believe there are such things as ghosts.

While you’re whistling past the graveyard, drop me an email at [email protected].

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