17 Days to Election Day: Maine

Without a doubt, the biggest news out of Maine was the announcement that Republican Senator Olympia Snowe was retiring at the end of her term leaving this an open seat race. More importantly, it is a Republican seat in a blue state- New England no less. Before discussing this race and its effect on the GOP strategy to win the Senate, Maine is a state that apportions their electoral votes according to congressional districts (Nebraska is the other one). In practical terms, that means that Obama will take all their electoral votes- 4 in all. In 2008, he took 57% of the vote in Maine with McCain taking only the sparsely populated Piscataquis county. Overall, he took the state by 17 points and polling this year puts him up with an approximate 13 point margin of victory.

Now, onto that Senate race. Olympia Snowe, the incumbent Republican, decided to retire citing the polarization of politics as the primary reason. Snowe had drawn the ire of conservatives within the GOP mainly because of her vote for the Obama stimulus and her initial “approval” of Obamacare. Eventually, when the chips were down, she voted against the ACA, but that initial “approval” was to release the bill from committee. There were rumors that she would switch political parties, like Arlen Specter had done Pennsylvania in 2010, but she denied that this thought ever entered her mind. In fact, she initially had her name on the Republican Party primary ballot, then withdrew, although many people, this writer included, believed she would have survived any primary challenge. Had she gone on and won the primary, she would have been reelected to the Senate and the anticipated Republican take over of the Senate would have been more secure.

That set up primary battles in both parties. On the Democratic side were state senator Cynthia Dill, former state secretary of state Matt Dunlap and state representative John Hinck. In the primary, Dill won with 44% of the vote. There was also a crowded field in the Republican party- Rick Bennett (president of the state senate), Scott D’Amboise (local politician), Bruce Poliquin (state treasurer) and Charles Summers (current state secretary of state). D’Amboise had been making the most noise prior to the Snowe announcement and was the favorite of the Tea Party Express. Polling prior to the primary with Snowe on the ballot indicated that she would have crushed D’Amboise. Summers eventually won, although he garnered less than 30% of the vote.

Complicating matters was the fact that former Governor Angus King decided to run as an independent. As Governor, he was a Republican, but decided on an independent run. Being cagey about which party he would caucus with should he be elected, he announced his intention to vote for Obama over Romney. Still, until he is elected (IF he is elected), one has to believe he will caucus with the party where he believes he will be given the best committee assignments.

Polling thus far indicates a King victory. However, Republicans should take heart from some facts. First, turnout for the Republican primary far exceeded that of Democrats in the state despite the fact that registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by about 60,000. Second, although Maine is considered a blue state, they have a Republican legislature and Republican Governor. Third, although King leads in polling thus far, his initial greater-than-50% point totals have now dropped below that level and settled in the mid 40s range. Fourth, while King’s numbers have dropped below 50%, the Democratic candidate’s-Cynthia Dill- numbers have remained stagnant. King’s dropping numbers have been to the advantage of Republican Charles Summers who has now made the race somewhat “competitive.” Fifth, there is a gay marriage question on the ballot which will motivate conservative voters to turn out and that is to the advantage of Summers. Sixth, there is now the general consensus that Dill is an afterthought playing the role of spoiler. That allows Summers to fight a war on one front- against King. Should Summers prevail here, there will be a huge collective sigh of relief in GOP headquarters. Most interestingly, the Democrats are not openly endorsing Dill, but attacking Summers now as a “tea party crony.” That has led some Maine Democrats to speak out against the party establishment. In other words, they are not supporting their candidate as much as they are indirectly supporting King anticipating his decision to caucus with the Democrats. At this point, however, I am calling this race for King.

In the House races, both incumbent Democrats are seeking reelection. In the 1st District, Democratic incumbent Chellie Pingree, is well-positioned to win her battle with Republican opponent Jonathan Courtney who barely defeated a lesser known opponent in the Republican primary. In the 2nd District race, incumbent Mike Michaud will face state senator Kevin Raye. This is the second match up between the two for this House seat with Michaud winning the seat in 2002 with only 52% of the vote. Although Raye’s fundraising lags, he has been elevated in the eyes in the GOP leadership. The Democratic city of Waterville has been shifted to the First District, which weakens Michaud’s base somewhat, while another 3,500 Republicans have been added to the 2nd District. Thus, this race may actually be much closer than most people believe. The most recent poll has Michaud with 59% of the vote with 7% undecided. That poll seems a little too high and this race should be a lot closer at the end. People know Raye now since he was senate president, unlike 2002. Final prediction? 53-47 for Michaud.

There are five questions on the Maine ballot this year. One asks voters to approve a $51 million bond for transportation improvements in the state. A second is an $11 million bond question for upgrades within the state college system. Then there are two other bond questions for water and sewerage project upgrades and purchase of land for wildlife preservation.

But, the biggest question is the same sex marriage issue. In 2009, with 53% of the vote, the people of Maine decided against gay marriage. The ballot initiative this year would essentially overturn that 2009 initiative and clear the way for same sex marriage in Maine. Polling thus far indicates support for the initiative, thus overturning the decision of the voters three short years ago. One gets the sense that in a state this small in terms of population, general voter attitudes towards gay marriage have not changed so dramatically as to basically flip 6% of the vote from a 53% disapproval of gay marriage to a 53% approval of gay marriage. In the end, this writer believes that the issue will bring out conservatives and make the race for Senator and 2nd District representative much closer than recent polls indicate (but not quite enough to change the outcomes) and that this initiative will go down to defeat, thus blocking gay marriage in Maine.

In conclusion: Angus King will be elected to the Senate and caucus with the Democrats while Obama will take the 4 electoral votes from Maine. Both Democratic incumbents will return to the House with the 2nd District race being close and that gay marriage will go down to defeat- again.

Running totals thus far: Romney leads the electoral vote count 185-159 while Republicans lead in the Senate 35-33 and still control the House 140-133.

NOTE: From this point on, I will discuss the so-called swing states as concerns either the presidential or a particularly close senatorial race. Since there is heavy polling in these states- and that continues as I write and after I publish- these prognostications are based on the results as of the date of publication.

Next: Michigan