Dems battle for name recognition in US Senate race
PORTLAND, Maine — With big names like Chellie Pingree, John Baldacci and Mike Michaud bowing out, the four Democrats seeking the party’s nomination in the U.S. Senate race are battling to show they’re not lightweights and can take on both the Republican nominee and independent former Gov. Angus King in November.
The Senate candidates include the state’s former top election official, a pair of current state lawmakers, and a home builder, none of whom have run for statewide office.
“People have wrung their hands a little bit, saying it’s too bad we don’t have a bigger name,” former Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said while en route to a campaign event. “At one point, people were saying, ‘Who the hell is Ed Muskie?’ ‘Who is George Mitchell?’ Everyone has to start somewhere.”
Early on, Dunlap, along with state Sen. Cynthia Dill, Rep. Jon Hinck and Portland homebuilder Ben Pollard, were vying for the opportunity to face Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe.
Her abrupt decision to abandon her re-election bid opened the door to a flood of speculation over whether the four would get overshadowed by better-known Democratic candidates.
But Michaud, the 2nd District congressman, quickly announced that he intended to stay put. So did Pingree, the 1st District congresswoman. Baldacci, a former two-term governor, chose to sit out, as well.
The four who are facing off on Tuesday’s primary ballot bristle over the suggestion that the field lacks depth.
Dill said such talk is “completely not helpful.”
“There is an election coming up with a slate of qualified candidates,” she said.
Hinck said voters want candidates who aren’t career politicians. The problem, he said, is that those candidates who aren’t career politicians lack name recognition.
“My resume is deep. My political resume is relatively shallow,” he said. “They want someone with a deeper resume outside of politics, but unfortunately that often means you don’t know them.”
Hinck is a former Greenpeace activist who worked for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, taught English in Iran and served as acting attorney general in a Pacific island nation, the Republic of Palau. He’s now a lawyer and an environmental activist who has served in the Maine House of Representatives for six years.
Dunlap served four terms in the Maine House of Representatives before becoming secretary of state. He’s also worked in restaurants and bars, for a printing company, and as a writer and editor, as well as serving a brief stint with the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.
Dill is an attorney who has climbed the political ladder from Town Council in Cape Elizabeth to the state House of Representatives to the state Senate.
Pollard’s previous political experience consists of a stint on the planning board in the small town of Blue Hill. He runs a homebuilding business in Portland.
“I believe we need a bold, youthful idealist who is able to present a compelling vision of how to resolve the serious problems facing the world,” Pollard said.
The public perception is that the four candidates are light on experience, said Mark Brewer, political science professor at the University of Maine.
“I wonder if that’s fair to them,” Brewer said. “I don’t think it necessarily is, but they’re having to fight it nonetheless.”
For Democrats, a strong independent candidate like King, himself a former Democrat, brings back bad memories of 2010, when independent Eliot Cutler split votes with Democrat Libby Mitchell in the governor’s race. Republican Paul LePage ended up winning the three-way race.
Dunlap said it’s up to the winner of the Democratic primary to create excitement and demonstrate a viable alternative to Republicans, King and several other independents in the race.
As for voters, they don’t always get big-name candidates. Instead, they get those candidates who are willing to put themselves up for public service.
“It’s not always your all-star team but eventually that’s where your all-star team comes from — the people who stand up to be counted,” Dunlap said.
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