Dropouts, straw polls hint at who to take seriously in crowded Maine governor’s race

Good morning from Augusta. We’ve been talking about the 2018 governor’s race for a long time, but it now feels like the campaign to replace Gov. Paul LePage is taking off in earnest, with two Democrats leaving the race since Friday and a Republican debate tonight in Waterville.

The two exits show some specific problems on the Democratic side. Former state Sen. Jim Boyle of Gorham exited on Friday and former Bangor Mayor Sean Faircloth left on Saturday to endorse former House Speaker Mark Eves in what is now an 11-way Democratic primary.

Boyle gained little financial traction after jumping into the race in July and Faircloth likely got into the race too late. His mid-December bid as a Clean Election candidate always had a high probability of failure and he said in a statement that he was “simply not on pace” to qualify.

Eight Clean Election candidates remain in the race. Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, has already qualified. Independent State Treasurer Terry Hayes and Democratic lobbyist Betsy Sweet — the other prominent Clean Election candidates — still must submit 3,200 contributions of $5 or more by April 2.

The Democratic field will likely winnow further soon. Five longshot candidates are left on that side. Financial filings for former state Rep. Diane Russell and state Sen. Mark Dion showed worrying signs at 2017’s end. Attorney General Janet Mills, attorney Adam Cote and Eves likely lead that field for now, while Republicans’ five-way contest is more stable.

Republican newcomers are locking down support at straw polls. Speaking of that side, it’s businessman Shawn Moody and former Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew who are gaining the most support at party county caucuses so far this season.

Mayhew won the Lincoln County straw poll earlier this month, while Moody won a Saturday straw poll in York County. Both are relative newcomers to the Republican Party, with Mayhew joining in 2014 and Moody in October.

Moody’s team released aggregate figures from caucuses so far, finding him leading with 42 percent to Mayhew’s 39 percent. These are small events that aren’t necessarily equivalent with wider party support, so don’t treat them as polling. They are a sign of early organization.

Debate season is upon us in the gubernatorial race. The five Republican candidates gather today for a 7 p.m. debate at Colby College. In advance of that, the Bangor Daily News polled the Republican candidates on four issues they’ll grapple with if elected governor.

Democrats also lost a 2nd Congressional District candidate

Tim Rich, a Bar Harbor restaurant owner, said this weekend that he is pulling out of the race and endorsing fellow Democrat Lucas St. Clair, according to the St. Clair campaign. Rich jumped into the race during the summer but failed to gain much traction in Democrats’ efforts to unseat incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

Rich, who indicated he would leave the race last month, announced he will join St. Clair at a handful of Democratic caucus events on March 4. Rich raised about $72,000 during the short campaign and spent about $62,000 of that, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Today in A-town

There’s a relatively light schedule of committee work today at the State House, but there are some heavy issues involved. The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will hold hearings this morning on two bills that would outlaw female genital mutilation in Maine and another this afternoon that would increase the penalty for a registered sex offender photographing a minor without parental consent. Those begin around 9 a.m. The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will be working on a number of bills related to election, gambling and liquor sales laws. The House and Senate return Tuesday. Check out the full schedule by clicking here.

Reading list

  • The Legislature’s marijuana committee has revamped its recreational pot bill and sent it to the Legislature. On a 16-1 vote, the Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee on Friday voted out an omnibus bill that has been under development for a year. LePage thwarted a similar bill last year with a veto. The new bill includes a combined excise and sales tax of around 20 percent, bana marijuana social clubs and sest the limit on flowering plants for personal use at three.
  • The LePage administration is contracting out 10 positions involved with the state’s Medicaid application process, even though it will cost more. The two-year $5.6 million contract between the Department of Health and Human Services and the University of Massachusetts Medical School will cost about $600,000 more than the status quo, according to a Bangor Daily News analysis.
  • Did your electric bill spike this year? The Maine Public Utilities Commission will meet Tuesday to determine whether to probe why at least 100 customers have complained about unexpected rises in their electricity bills from Central Maine Power. A CMP spokeswoman said the company is looking into whether a new billing and customer service system is to blame.
  • A Portland hospital and an ambulance service provider have agree to repay $1.4 million for overbilling the federal Medicare program. North East Mobile Health Service of Scarborough will repay $825,000 for the overbilling and Maine Medical Center will pay $600,000 in a separate suit for providing inaccurate information to the ambulance service. Neither entity admitted any wrongdoing in the settlements, which followed an Inspector General’s report.

The Maine senatorial drama in Hillary Clinton’s briefing book

In Orono on Friday, I dropped into the office of my old University of Maine professor (and BDN columnist) Amy Fried, who took a recent research trip to the Clinton Presidential Center in Arkansas and said she found some documents I’d be interested in.

They were from former first lady Hillary Clinton’s briefing book during the Democrats’ failed health care reform bid in 1994. The Clinton team saw then-U.S. Rep. Olympia Snowe as a top Republican target and said a key was to “have local groups bring pressure on her.” They mentioned then-U.S. Rep. Tom Andrewsamputated leg and loyal Democratic record.

Maine Sen. George Mitchell was the Democratic majority leader. Republican Sen. William Cohen was a Republican target. But Clinton was told discussion with Cohen must be done “with extreme delicacy due to the underlying rivalry which exists between the two Maine Senators.”

It said while the senators “seem to get along well,” their staffs historically were “quite competitive.” By then, the two senators had already written a book together. Cohen became President Bill Clinton‘s defense secretary. In 2009, Cohen called Mitchell “a great political leader.”

But here’s your delicate soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.