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Right turn on Maine

"Right turn on Maine" Continued...

Issue: "Trouble in Egypt," June 2, 2012

That's a reference to King's stake in a wind company whose $102 million government loan guarantee is under a congressional probe. King sold his stake in the company shortly after announcing his run for Senate.

Republicans also have kept busy reminding Maine voters that the state enjoyed a budget surplus when King began his governorship in 1995 but suffered from a budget deficit when he left eight years later.

Maine conservatives are hoping that King's candidacy will create the same scenario that helped Republicans during the gubernatorial race here in 2010. Then, left-leaning independent candidate Eliot Cutler lured more Democrats than Republicans on his way to grabbing 36 percent of the vote. Democrat Libby Mitchell received just 19 percent of the vote, allowing LePage to win with only 38 percent.

The Republican candidates here are keeping a busy appearance schedule in their efforts to combat the advantage in name recognition enjoyed by King. At a recent candidate forum in Bangor, the contenders took turns addressing a crowd of nearly 100 who sat and munched on meatballs, cucumbers, and broccoli.

It was difficult to discern any real differences in the candidates' policy views. Each one railed against the government's spending habits: one candidate called them unsustainable, another called them outrageous, while a third called them immoral. One candidate said he is running for his children and grandchildren, while another candidate said the government has sold "my children and your children into servitude." All the candidates pledged to repeal Obamacare and unravel the welfare state.

After the event, attendees talked about the energy of the state's conservative movement. Charlie Smith of Stockton Springs, Maine, said he's seen neighbors scrape off Obama bumper stickers from the back of their cars. Jon Pottle, 31, said Maine has a lot of disgruntled people like the rest of the country who are just tired of big government.

Despite the enthusiasm and momentum, the Maine Republican Party faces internal challenges. During the party's state convention on May 6, time ran out before the six Senate candidates could take the stage. Many blamed supporters of Ron Paul for hijacking the convention and forcing the schedule to fall so far behind that the convention chairman, a Paul supporter, axed the 20-minute speaking slots set aside for the Senate candidates.

Shocked at their sudden inability to showcase themselves before the 2,800 people who registered for the convention, the candidates began delivering shortened versions of their speeches in stairways, atriums, and empty rooms near the convention's meeting hall. "This whole weekend had been an absolute fiasco," declared candidate D'Amboise while standing on a chair near his convention booth. By the time the messy convention ended, Paul supporters had won 21 out of the state's 24 delegates to the national convention.

Carroll Conley, the Christian Civic League of Maine executive director, said he is confident that conservatives will "lick their wounds" and rally behind the Republican primary winner. He said the momentum from the 2010 election is still strong enough to boost the Republican candidate that emerges this June.

"Maine is not as liberal as it was being governed," Conley says. "I think a lot of people in Maine were silent and really afraid to stand up for their conservative values. But the left pushed too far too hard."

Conley says another factor will influence this fall's election: A vote in Maine on same-sex marriage. In 2009 then Gov. John Baldacci signed into law a bill allowing same-sex marriages, but social conservatives put it on hold by successfully petitioning for a referendum, and the repeal passed by a 53 percent to 47 percent vote. In response, same-sex marriage advocates launched their own successful drive to place a voter initiative in favor of same-sex marriage on Maine ballots for this November.

Conley predicts that this ballot question will bring more conservatives to the polls and help the Republican candidate for Senate. But recent polls suggest that a majority of Maine voters support this newest gay marriage initiative, and some conservatives worry that voter fatigue over the issue could affect turnout.

Yet conservatives like Adams, the septuagenarian political activist, and Dutson say they see no evidence of fatigue in the state's conservative and Tea Party groups. Adams sometimes appears on stage with Gov. LePage, and she always tries to rally the troops with stories about her conservative activist days in the 1970s when, as she puts it, she often felt "lonely."

The Cook Political Report lists the Maine senate race as a toss-up, and Dutson of The Maine Heritage Policy Center says conservatives in 2012 are numerous and energized. "They know now something that they hadn't known in a generation," he says, "which is they can win."

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee is WORLD's Washington Bureau chief. As a reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, he was embedded with a National Guard unit in Iraq. He also once worked in the press office of Sen. Lamar Alexander.

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