Maine primaries pit pragmatics vs. partisans

Welcome to primary day! It’s all about the 2nd Congressional District, where upsets could abound. Conventional wisdom says well-funded Emily Cain will emerge the victor over Troy Jackson on the Democratic side and former Senate President Kevin Raye will triumph over carpetbagging Bruce Poliquin on the Republican side. But is that really how it’s going to go?

Cain’s money advantage over Jackson is well-known for those paying attention, and her support from groups like EMILY’s List and the League of Conservation Voters is real and relevant. But so is Jackson’s union support, making it not quite David and Goliath.

Primaries, however, are low-turnout affairs. That means name ID is just as important as how many phone calls have been made, because absent a wave election – see the 2010 gubernatorial election –  those who are voting in the primary are those who always vote in the primary. So they’ll pick the name they know. Advantage Cain here, given her time on television. Jackson likely has some residual fame based on Gov. Paul LePage’s choice comments about him, but that may have been more of an in-the-moment fame rather than residual.

As candidates, the race couldn’t be more divergent when it comes to philosophy. And no, I don’t mean on the issues but rather approach. Cain surprised many with how she negotiated serving as House minority leader under the bombastic regime of LePage. She showed Snowe-Collins-esque pragmatism, finding ways to work with the governor but drawing the line in other areas. Jackson, meanwhile, emerged as the governor’s foil, battling toe-to-toe over everything. Both approaches reap benefits for party faithful – and it’s up to Democrats to decide how they want their representative, who will be serving in the minority, to behave while in D.C.

Raye is twice a loser in the 2nd District. That’s not nothing. But it’s likely more of an anchor during the general than the primary. During the primary, he’s knows all the Republican operatives and there’s not likely a GOP-er in Downeast who hasn’t met him. He’s had enough money to remain competitive against Poliquin, who despite claiming not to be a career politician has made quite the stamp on Maine politics. Poliquin is ubiquitous at GOP fundraising events from Kittery to Calais. He transformed the role of state treasurer from one of a stuffy number cruncher who emerged occasionally at State House committee hearings to a barnstorming near member of the cabinet, with a weekly blog and soliciting media appearances to rail against debt. It was a high-risk, high-reward move that certainly got his name out there, but didn’t win him points as a humble public servant.

But while money talks in politics, and Poliquin has it in spades, he also learned in his failed 2010 gubernatorial bid that if the people aren’t with you, you could almost earn more votes setting a lighter to your millions rather than dumping them into a campaign lacking organic supporters. Yet this is another election and rather than competing against a field of about a half a dozen as he did in the gubernatorial primary, Poliquin is just up against Mr. Mustard. And similar to the Democratic side, the two men are split on the best approach to take as a politician – pragmatic dealmaker or pugnacious partisan. Truth be told, Poliquin would be a better fit for House Republicans in their current state, but voters will have to decide if that’s the right fit for Maine.

Rebekah Metzler

About Rebekah Metzler

Rebekah Metzler is a political writer with U.S. News and World Report, who hails from the state of Maine where she covered state politics for the Lewiston Sun Journal and MaineToday Media. She spent much of 2012 covering the presidential campaign and particularly enjoyed her time on the road in states like Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Ohio and Ohio. Metzler earned her master’s degree in journalism from Boston University and is a Bowdoin College grad.