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home : politics : government
January 26, 2020

10/30/2014 10:52:00 AM
Eye on Augusta: Democrats & Allies Spending Liberally in Local Legislative Races
by Andy OBrien

When I left the Maine Legislature in 2012, it was a bittersweet departure. I knew I was going to miss the public policy work, helping constituents and my friends of all political persuasions in Augusta. But one thing I have never longed for is the campaign, particularly that final, grueling week before the election.

When you're in a tough race, you become even more sensitized to what people are saying about you. You start counting lawn signs and desperately wondering why the neighbors have your opponent's sign on their lawn. What swayed them? Was it something I said or did? You start collecting negative mailers and just hope that the next one won't get personal. Running for the Legislature was probably the most emotionally draining thing I've ever willingly subjected myself to. I knew one former candidate who went out hunting the day after he won a hard-fought election. As he sat down on a log in the quiet of the woods, he had a good, long cry. He said it wasn't from elation or sadness, but the final release of all of that stress that had built up during the campaign. And he felt a whole lot better afterward.

The Midcoast Battlegrounds

Since there's very little reliable polling data available on local legislative races, the best indicator of the battlegrounds is where the parties are spending money. And this year it's the liberal groups that are dropping the big bucks. According to a recent analysis by the Bangor Daily News, political action committees (PACs) have so far spent $1.7 million supporting Democrats, which is nearly triple the amount of money spent by Republican groups in local races.

Last week, Sen. Mike Thibodeau of Winterport became the first local target of a TV ad buy. The Washington D.C.-based Every Voice Maine, a PAC ironically devoted to "strengthening Maine's landmark Clean Election Act," has spent over $25,000 on an ad attacking Thibodeau for taking $50,000 in donations from pharmaceutical companies for his leadership PAC and then "voting their way time after time." The Maine Democratic Party has also spent nearly $18,000 in ads opposing Thibodeau and supporting his opponent, Democrat Jonathan Fulford of Monroe.

Up until recently, it appears that Thibodeau did not expect a difficult race, as he only raised about $9,000 for his own campaign. That's about $16,000 less than Fulford receives in public financing as a Clean Elections candidate. Following an internal poll done in early September on his race, Thibodeau reported raising an additional $5,500 in funds. With no official poll data available on the race, it's not clear whether Democratic operatives think they actually have a shot at winning the seat or they just want to distract Thibodeau from campaigning for other Republican candidates. So far, the Republican Party hasn't spent any money to support their Senate leader, so perhaps their own internal polls indicate that he has nothing to worry about. But we won't know for sure until election night.

So far, spending in the Lincoln County race between incumbent Democrat Chris Johnson of Somerville and former Republican Rep. Les Fossel of Alna has been extremely lopsided. Democrats and liberal groups have dropped $133,000 to support Johnson compared to less than $8,000 in spending by Republican groups for Fossel. Meanwhile, in the Senate District 12 race between Democrat Dave Miramant of Camden and Republican Paula Sutton of Warren, Democrats have spent $38,000 compared to the Republicans' $21,000 for Sutton.

Democrats and their allies are also vastly outspending Republicans in House races. By far, the most outside spending for a House seat in the midcoast appears to be the District 90 race between incumbent Democrat Rep. Mick Devin of Newcastle and former John Birch Society coordinator Anna Morkeski of Damariscotta. So far, liberal groups have dropped a combined $16,000 to support Devin while Republicans have spent a mere $600 to help Morkeski. The second most expensive seat in the area in terms of outside spending is House District 96, where Democrats have spent $11,500 to support Democrat Christine Burstein of Lincoln-ville compared to just $1,300 spent by Republicans for Montville Republican Peter Weston, the husband of former State Senator Carol Weston.

Right now, the biggest individual spender in the area is Republican Karl Ward of Dedham, who is running against former Democratic Rep. Veronica Magnan of Stockton Springs. Ward has reportedly raised a whopping $64,000 and has hired former Senator Debra Plowman to be his full-time campaign manager. With only $5,500 in Clean Elections funds and $4,550 in third-party spending to support her, Magnan certainly has an uphill battle.

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