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Parties Differ on Cause of Maine Legislative Races Going Uncontested
07/31/2012   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

The clock is ticking for candidates in Maine's Legislative races as Republicans prepare to defend their majorities against a slate of determined Democratic challengers. This year Republicans managed to field more House and Senate candidates but Democrats said Mainers want a change in leadership. And in an effort to galvanize their supporters, Democrats will hold events in several communities this weekend under the banner 100 Days to Stop LePage. Republicans warn it would be wise not to underestimate the governor's popularity among Maine voters.

Their message is crafted to energize their grass roots supporters: Democratic leaders are reminding party loyalists there are fewer than 100 days to put Gov. Paul LePage in a defensive mode by ending Republican majorities in the House and Senate this fall. But Republicans said it's a mistake to build a legislative strategy around LePage's polarizing public personae.

"Well that's not our strategy, I think we need to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time," said Ben Grant.

Ben Grant is the state chairman of the Maine Democratic Party. He said every time the governor makes a gaffe with a "Gestapo" remark or passes off disparaging claims about Maine student limitations as fact, it's a plus for Democrats. But he knows the party can't build a statewide election strategy based on LePage's missteps.

"There's a strategy around the governor, he's really unpopular in some pockets of Maine and we are going to use his antics and his policies in those areas but there are other areas of Maine where he is more popular than we would like to admit and we have a different tactic," Grant said.

Winning in swing districts that were claimed by the GOP in the 2010 elections are a key element of the Democratic strategy. But of the combined 186 seats in the House and Senate, Democrats were unable to find candidates for 10 of them while Republicans failed to attract candidates for four. Democrats blame the economy. They said many people don't feel secure enough to take time off from their jobs to serve. Republicans counter that the shortage of Democratic challengers reflects the popularity of the party's message. Portland pollster Patrick Murphy, of Strategic Marketing Services suspects there may be other reasons.

"It's more of an issue of the Democrats looked at those 10 seats or so and decided probably that they didn't have a lot of chance to win those," Murphy said. "They probably said let's save our ammunition for some of the other races which are more marginal and where they've got a better opportunity to win."

Grant said five of the races in which Democrats failed to field a candidate feature independents who he believes will be Democrat-friendly should they win their bids. House District 42, which features several Waldo County towns in the Winterport area, is one such race where former three-term Democratic Rep. Joe Brooks is attempting a comeback as an Independent.

"People who have a history of supporting Democratic issues are going to continue to support that," said Grant. "Very rarely do you have an entire sea change of their political philosophy. I haven't spoken with him myself but someone like a Joe Brooks I think would fall into that category."

"What I find is really odd is that the Democrats, even the Democrats running as Democrats are not running like Democrats and they're not talking about Democratic ideas," said Charlie Webster.

As chair of the Republican Party, Charlie Webster has to feel the pressure of mounting an election strategy that will return GOP majorities to the House and Senate. But he's not showing it. Instead, he insists there's a reason why Republicans fielded more candidates than the Democrats. Not surprisingly, Webster said its the same reason Republicans will prevail as the majority party in November.

"The Democrats don't sell well in the country anymore, they've abandoned the working class, people who work with their hands don't want to vote Democrat anymore because all the Democrats see is a way for them to get more tax money to fund their welfare state, so I think people throughout the state agree with what we're trying to do in Augusta and it's really made it a lot easier to recruit this time," Webster said.

While Republicans attracted more candidates for this fall's legislative races, Democrats lead the GOP in statewide committee fundraising according to reports on file with the state ethics commission.

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