Steven: We’ve made our predictions on the ballot initiatives. Ready to talk about the candidates?
Lance: Let’s do it.
Steven: Great. We’ll start with Portland’s mayoral race. This one is personal for me. For years, Mike Brennan worked for the same Ralph Nader organization where I got my start. Some of his best friends were my personal mentors. I voted for him last time, and I know he’s a good man.
But I’ve been disappointed in him as mayor. He squandered a massive amount of political capital on the doomed effort to sell Congress Square Park, and I was appalled when he called the city council back in September to lower the sub-minimum “waitress wage" back down to $3.75.
So I’m backing Ethan Strimling, who is running a pitch-perfect campaign. He’s got the support of everyone from Diane Russell to the Chamber of Commerce, and the biggest question now is whether he’ll clear a 20-point margin of victory.
Lance: I’m backing Ethan on this one as well. Finding someone who supports conservative principles in Portland is a lost cause, so in this case I think the decision needs to be made based on leadership. Ethan has successfully run a multimillion-dollar social-service agency for years, which is kind of exactly what the City of Portland is, when you get right down to it.
Steven: Wow. You like Ethan too? He really is bringing “Portland Together!” We’ll see how long that lasts once the hard work of governing begins.
Lance: No doubt. But in all seriousness, his leadership at LearningWorks has helped improve the lives of so many young people in Portland, and I think it’s a great example of the kind of mayor he’d be. He’s been able to work with the federal and state government to grow the organization and increase its positive impact, and he’s done this by working with people from all over the political spectrum, including Governor LePage. Ethan’s a talented politician and administrator, and I think Portland will be better off with him in charge.
And I have to give a shout-out to Ethan’s campaign manager, Stephanie Clifford. She and the Strimling team have run a flawless campaign, and regardless of the result, I think Stephanie has shown she’s one of the best operatives in Maine. I disagree with you, Steven, on the margin of victory--I think Brennan’s got a strong ground game--but I do think Ethan wins this in the end.
Steven: I agree. Ethan and Stephanie have controlled the terms of the debate and exploited every opening Mike has given them to the hilt.
OK, there are a couple of special elections for state House. These are competitive districts—the kinds of places that the Maine GOP needs to win in order to take back the House. But given Governor LePage’s 32 percent approval rating in the latest Critical Insights poll, I don’t think that’s gonna happen.
Lance: These two House races are both seats that Democrats won during the last election, and that makes them both uphill battles for the GOP. Add to that the weight of an extremely unpopular governor, and you’ve got a really tricky situation. One of the vacancies came when Rep. Bill Noon passed away earlier this year, and his widow, Jean Noon, is the Democratic candidate. That’s always a tough situation to run against, and I think the GOP will have a hard time making the case in that district. However, in the race to replace Democrat Rep. Mike Shaw, the GOP has a candidate who has already garnered over 40% of the vote once, and it’s a district that was held recently by a Republican.
I predict the GOP will pick up one of these seats, but not both.
Steven: You're right that on paper, the Republicans should have a very good shot at in the Standish-based seat vacated by Rep. Shaw. But that candidate you mention who cracked 40 percent in 2014 is Ron Paul-ite Lester Ordway, who actually ran 17 points behind LePage. Democrats have a strong candidate and proven vote-getter in Standish Town Council Chair Lynn Olson. This has the look of a missed opportunity for the GOP.
In Sanford, I think Jean Noon will hold her husband’s seat, though her challenger, Matt Harrington, is a strong candidate and can’t be taken for granted.
One other note: If I’m right and Democrats do win both of these competitive seats, it’ll only increase the divisions and disaffection we’re seeing among Republicans—and it could be a trouble sign for your side heading into 2016.
Lance: OK, let’s finish with the barn burner in Lewiston, where five candidates are running but the main event is Ben Chin vs. incumbent Bob MacDonald.
Steven: From the start, Ben Chin has been the underdog here. Bob MacDonald has been elected twice. Paul LePage won 50.7% of the vote in Lewiston in 2014. But while I predict we’re going to see a runoff, the feedback I’m hearing from people going door to door is that Ben has a lot of support from people who don’t usually vote for Democrats.
Republicans have tried to demonize Ben as a communist and a riot instigator and all kinds of awful things. But Ben has knocked on a million doors. Virtually everyone in the city has met him. And if you’ve met him, you know he’s just impossible not to like personally, even if you disagree with him politically.
That’s why the attacks aren’t sticking. And while Ben’s been getting attacked with idiotic and racist “Ho Chi Chin” signs, he’s been out talking to people about bread-and-butter issues, like trash bag fees. So while I would have bet on Bob MacDonald a month ago, Ben has vastly outworked the mayor, and I predict Ben pulls off the upset of the year.
Lance: This race is another disaster for Maine Republicans, and another case where you’ll see voters casting their ballots against their own ideologies in protest. The state party inexplicably got involved with Mayor MacDonald’s campaign, even though this is supposed to be a nonpartisan election, and they’ve made a mess of it.
MacDonald as an incumbent should have easily dispatched this young man, but instead I think Chin has the wind at his back. He’s crushing the mayor in both fundraising and earned media, and in a district where Democratic registration dwarfs Republican voter registration, the GOP’s clumsy involvement has made voters more aware of party alignment than they normally would have been.
Plus, MacDonald is just a terrible public figure. I think the race will be close, but I think Ben Chin will be the next mayor of Lewiston.