On Tuesday, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee formally endorsed Shenna Bellows in Maine’s US Senate race this year. Bellows, who has led the state’s ACLU chapter the past 8+ years, was the only legitimate candidate seeking the Democratic nomination as the filing deadline passed. No other candidates stepped forward. The progressive firebrand has been running a grassroots campaign since last year.
Bellows made some waves earlier this year when it was reported that she actually outraised incumbent Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) during the fourth quarter of 2013. The vast majority of Bellows’ funds came from individual donations of less than $100. She was also able to pull in money from the majority of towns in the state and almost all of it came from within Maine. Now, Bellows has the backing of the national party. This should only help her increase her fundraising efforts and provide her with more organization, structure and resources.
Collins is considered one of the more moderate members of the Senate and has been praised at times for her efforts to push for bipartisan solutions. This is probably why Sen. Collins is popular in the state and had an easy reelection victory in 2008, despite Barack Obama winning the state by 17 points. However, she shouldn’t look at this as a slam dunk for her. There are various reasons why Collins could be in trouble come November. The first issue she faces isn’t of her own doing, but that of another high-profile Republican in her state.
Governor Paul LePage has been a controversial figure in the state since being elected in 2010. He’s pretty much made it his mission to offend anybody and everybody since taking office. He refused to participate in a MLK Day event and told the NAACP to ‘kiss my butt.’ LePage stated that the IRS is the ‘new Gestapo.’ The Governor claimed that President Obama ‘hates white people.’ He’s intimidated state employees. LePage has made offensive statements towards gays and transgenders. He even said he wanted to blowup a newspaper’s building because they were critical of him.
The only way LePage will win reelection in November is if independent candidate Eliot Cutler stays in the race and pulls enough of the votes away from Democratic challenger Mike Michaud. Even then, Michaud is still currently running ahead of LePage, with Cutler getting about 16% of the vote. If Cutler drops out, almost all of those votes will go to Michaud. Regardless, there is a palpable anger towards LePage among Maine voters and turnout should be high to remove him from office.
That turnout could work against Collins, as anger towards one Republican could potentially impact another Republican. Therefore, Collins will need to make an effort to distance herself from LePage. Another thing that could hurt Collins against Bellows is that Bellows is running on a very progressive and libertarian message. Bellows has come out for marijuana legalization in the state. She’s also stated her disdain for the NSA and its surveillance techniques. Bellows has said that she wants to repeal the Patriot Act.
Her views towards domestic spying, the use of drones, marijuana legalization and other free rights issues could make her very appealing to libertarian and independent voters in Maine. The state nearly elected Cutler as Governor in 2010 and elected independent Angus King to the Senate in 2012. There is a very clear independent streak in Maine politics and Bellows can definitely tap into that.
Finally, though, is the fact that Bellows is an engaged and active candidate that has made sure to visit the entire state and meet with Maine residents. She is young and passionate, and that really does resonate, especially when on the ground. Taking the time to spend a few minutes to talk with an individual while explaining why that person should vote for you does wonders. This explains why Bellows was able to raise so much money from small donations. She energized people , pure and simple.
Make no mistake, Bellows has a huge hill to climb. However, the GOP needs to take notice that this race cannot be taken for granted. Republicans have expressed tons of confidence regarding this year’s midterm elections, all but declaring that the election is over and they will take the Senate and increase their majority in the House. The GOP has focused all of its attention on swing state races with Democratic incumbents who they think are vulnerable. That may end up coming back to bite them.