With results in from the special election for Senate District 19, Democrats are crowing they have momentum. Republicans don’t exactly deny that, but say their loss was due to much money in politics and a negative campaign.
There was a small vote gap between the Democrat and Republican but, due to the presence of a Green party candidate, the Republican, who formerly held the seat, attracted just under 47% of the vote.
What does this mean?
Now, special elections are generally a crude way of tracking public sentiment and voter preferences. Often there are particular local circumstances that matter, particularly when it comes to congressional races and national trends. Still, they aren’t meaningless. In fact, the only person to correctly predict that Harry Truman would win the presidential race of 1948 was Louis Bean, an Agriculture Department official whose method largely involved analyzing special elections and the swing in off-year contests.
However, this special election very well could matter, given the political dynamics in the state.
Maine politics revolves around the place of Gov. LePage. His comments regularly make national news and not in a good way. Meanwhile, Maine is a state whose pantheon of political figures are people who are exude dignity.
And Republican legislators have backed him up rather consistently, overwhelmingly supporting him after he vetoes bills, even those passed unanimously. At the same time, Gov. LePage has put off some in the tea party/Ron Paul wing of the party,
So what’s next?
A loss in the special election could matter for Maine policy and politics.
On policy, look for Republican legislators to do more to try to separate themselves from the governor. The most effective place to do that is on a high profile issue, such as Medicaid expansion.
Soon after this failed to be enacted over a LePage veto, there was talk it could be back before the end of the year. Passing an expansion over LePage’s clear opposition would demonstrate a difference between the governor and Republican legislators. Voting against it before voting for it would have to be explained, but, hey, politicians can be creative.
On politics, Republicans may face problems organizing for their upcoming campaigns. As Dan Demeritt, LePage’s former communications director put it, “I worry fatigue & SD19 experience makes it harder to recruit & raise money on GOP side. And leads to enthusiasm gap on ground.”
Look for Democrats to double down on the strategy of connecting legislative candidates with Gov. LePage.
This was one of several voters interviewed at the polls who “brought up LePage on their own”:
Ed Flotten of Topsham said he is an unenrolled voter who casts his ballot based on the candidate and not his or her political party said his vote Tuesday was in opposition to LePage.
“I think it’s important to keep the balance of power the way it is in the Legislature,” said Flotten, who has voted for numerous Republicans over the years. “I’m not for LePage. He doesn’t present a professional demeanor or presence. He doesn’t know how to keep his mouth closed and it reflects badly on the State of Maine. … I’m just here to make sure Benoit doesn’t get in.” [Source]
LePage’s style and policy stances, which are unlikely to change, constitute a critical fact of Maine politics. They mattered in the SD19 race, Democrats focusing on them worked for them in the 2012 legislative races and they will mightily influence the 2014 elections.