Ad wars in Maine governor’s primary races are anything but civil

Good morning from Augusta. It’s June 1 and the June 12 primaries are closing in with ad battles heating up on Maine radio and TV stations. It’s hard to catch all of the ads, so we figured that we would put just about all of the new ones in one place — and in context.

In the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Attorney General Janet Mills fired back at attorney Adam Cote, seen by many as an ascendant candidate in that field. On the Republican side, businessman Shawn Moody is defending himself from attacks from former Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew and Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason.

Mills’ hit on Cote came after his earlier hit on her and prompted a questionable statement from Cote on his time as a Republican. This feud began when Cote released an ad after the state convention last month saying Mills was “wrong to join Gov. [Paul] LePage in refusing to strengthen water protections” in a vague reference to a March open letter to Mills from progressives and Indian tribes criticizing her positions in water rights cases.

Mills hit back this week with a new ad that highlights her background before saying Cote is leveling “false attacks” (“false is a stretch, more like “spun”) and saying that he was a registered Republican for years.

That is true. During a 2008 congressional campaign, he told the Kennebec Journal that he was a Republican from 2000 to 2006. But his campaign responded to Mills’ ad in a statement that called him a “lifelong, active Democrat” — which can’t be true if you were a Republican for years.

Cote spokeswoman Monica Castellanos said later that he registered as a Republican to vote against George W. Bush in Maine’s 2000 presidential primary, then served overseas in the military, had a family and “forgot about it” until re-registering as a Democrat in 2006.

The likely top three Republicans in the governor’s race are a circular firing squad at the moment. There have been no public polls released in the governor’s race since one in early May by the Bangor Daily News showing Mills and Moody ahead in their fields. That poll is too old to take much stock in now, but the fundamentals seem similar given the tone of both races. Among Republicans at that time, Mayhew and Mason were in second and third place, respectively.

Mason released a TV ad yesterday hitting Mayhew and Moody for becoming Republicans “to run for office” (Mayhew joined in 2014 and Moody in October just before his run) and supporting pro-abortion rights candidates (Mayhew worked for Democrats and Moody has given money to Republicans except for $100 donations to a Democratic legislative candidates in 2014 and 2016).

A pro-Mayhew political action committee run by liquor magnate Paul Coulombe has also popped its head up on the radio with a new ad hitting Moody, saying he “rejected” Republicans during his 2010 independent run for governor and highlighting Mayhew’s tenure with the state.

Moody came back with an ad hitting Mayhew for working for and donating to “liberal Democrats” and Mason’s status as a taxpayer-funded Clean Election candidate and pitching himself as a “common-sense conservative,” even though he eschewed that label in 2010.

The lessons seem pretty clear. Moody and Mills are still the ones fielding most attacks, so we would bet that campaigns are all seeing polls that put them ahead. But Mayhew, Mason and Cote look like the upset hopefuls to watch right now and 11 days is still a long time.

Correction: An earlier version of this item said Shawn Moody only gave money to one Democratic legislative candidate, but he has given money to two. It was a reporter’s error.

Reading list

  • LePage is personally invested in reforms to Maine’s child welfare system. The governor on Thursday attended a meeting of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, which is conducting a probe into the handling of two cases in which young girls were allegedly killed by their guardians. The governor called for less of an emphasis on bringing families back together following instances or allegations of abuse and said he could call the Legislature into session this summer to deal with the issue.
  • Ken Fredette says that though he is one of LePage’s staunch allies, he wouldn’t govern like him. By several indications, the Maine House minority leader is trailing in the four-way Republican primary for governor, which he says might be due to his relatively late entry in the race. Despite his history of leading his Republican House caucus in blocking dozens of initiatives and proposals that had support from Democrats and Senate Republicans, he said he would be a governor who seeks consensus on the front end of the legislative process.
  • Oh buoy, this isn’t good. Someone is stealing bells from navigation buoys in the Gulf of Maine. The U.S. Coast Guard says brass bells and gongs have been disappearing from the buoys during the past six months. The sounding devices are crucial for navigation, particularly in foggy weather.
  • Bangor city councilors approved a contract designed to stem an exodus of police officers. The contract for police and firefighters provides 3 percent raises in each of the next three years and restores an option for union members to choose between the Maine State Retirement plan — where employees get roughly 50 percent of wages after 25 years of service, depending on rank — and the existing 401a plan (which is similar to a 401k), where the city will make a flat 10.5 percent contribution on each weekly paycheck. The police department has seen a high turnover rate in recent years, with officers leaving to take jobs in the southern part of the state.

Exhausting conversations with my kid

My 13-year-old is all about speed these days and dreaming of the day he earns his driver’s license — and goes out and buys a new Ford Mustang. As he often does these days, he was “researching” them last night and wondering why anyone would opt for the “quieter exhaust” option.

“Why buy a Mustang if you want a quiet exhaust?” he said.

He also has plans for me when I replace my old PT Cruiser.

“Wouldn’t it be fun to cut the muffler off and go around revving it up?” he asked. “Can we actually do that?”

Kid’s got a point. Maybe we’d sound a little like Alex Van Halen at the beginning of this song, which is today’s soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, Michael Shepherd and 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.

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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.