The Next David To Pingree's Goliath

Honestly, I don’t think I would want to be the next candidate to face off against Chellie Pingree.  In the biggest Republican wave year in a generation, and against an outstanding candidate, she still won.  And, the way she won just so happened to be by overwhelming her opponent with money and negative attacks, so it certainly isn’t an appealing prospect.

There is no getting around it, the next Republican nominee to face off with Chellie Pingree will start off the underdog.

But no one is unbeatable, and already there are a number of people lining up to try.  You probably haven’t heard much buzz about this, but there are some rather interesting people considering a run.  Let’s take a look at the most likely among them.

Shawn Moody

Yeah, you read that right.  Shawn Moody.

Shawn Moody is seriously considering a run for Congress – the trick is, from what I understand he could run either as an independent, or as a Republican.  Either choice has its advantages (I personally think running as an independent has the higher upside), but I’m told he’s considering the GOP line, and if he does, he immediately makes a strong case for being the most electable Republican candidate in the field.

Moody won almost universal praise for being a genuine, honest, and thoughtful candidate for Governor in 2010.  He also happened to have a message that was mostly center-right, and had definite appeal with conservative voters.  In that election, he simply got in too late, was viewed as a little too green to be the executive leading the state, and became overshadowed by the more substantial independent in the race, Eliot Cutler.

The consensus essentially became that Moody was an honest broker, man of the people, and the kind of guy who you would love to be involved in the process, but not one that had a chance in that particular race.

But a run for Congress is entirely different.  His personal profile looks and feels more “Maine” than any other potential candidate (just listen to him talk), he has a long history of political independence, he has views that will make the right (especially southern Maine Republicans) mostly happy, and he has likely learned a great deal from his first campaign.  He also satisfies the people looking for a fresh face and a political outsider.

The biggest challenge for Moody in the primary will be convincing enough conservatives that he is palatable and “one of them” enough to vote for.  His challenge for the general will be running a tight, disciplined campaign that has the financial resources to combat the unlimited Pingree money machine.

A run as a Republican, if successful, would give institutional backing and a political machine to Moody, something that he lacked as an independent candidate for Governor.  This can not be over-stated.  He would have access to party activists, donors, campaign operatives and volunteers, and local community support that simply can not be easily duplicated as an independent.  Any run as an independent risks seeing him once again marginalized, but running under the Republican flag he would start in the 40% range of share of the vote and have nowhere to go but up.

However, running as an independent would give him a better political argument to make, especially if the Republicans nominate a hard-line conservative and the choice becomes a hard left Democrat who nobody particularly likes personally, and an out of step with the district Republican.  In that scenario, he could easily make the case that he is the only person in the race who reflects the true color of the first district, that the party candidates are just “more of the same”, and that he is a better option.  In such a case, I think we would see a very similar race to the 1994 gubernatorial contest, which saw Angus King sweep to office.

But regardless, it is hard to argue that Moody, based on profile, name recognition, stature, and political positions, is the candidate most likely to defeat Pingree – from either the potential Republican field, or as an independent.

Jon Courtney

Jon Courtney is the Republican Senator Majority Leader in the Maine Senate, second only to Senate President Kevin Raye.

He is currently serving his fourth and final term (term limits!) representing the third Senate district, which is the central part of York county and includes the towns of Limington, Waterboro, Lyman, Alfred and Sanford.

Courtney’s Senate district is overwhelmingly independent.  50.34% of registered voters in the district are independents, with only 23.21% Democrats and 20.86% Republicans.  Given their voting history, it would seem that these voters truly are independent.  In 2010, for instance, they handed Courtney a substantial win, as he beat his Democratic opponent 57%-38%.  But in the same election, voters in his district chose Chellie Pingree over Dean Scontras by a 53%-47% margin, and selected Paul LePage (35.75%) over Eliot Cutler (32.68%) and Libby Mitchell (19.42%) in the gubernatorial contest.

In short, Courtney has been getting elected comfortably in a district that is streaky, unpredictable, and has an independent profile.  But, as we should all know, local legislative races are almost always decided by local issues and the work and face time a candidate puts in with his constituency – politics matters, but not as much as you might think.  This is important to keep in mind, because the nature of his district does not mean Courtney is somehow an independent minded maverick that philosophically matches the quirks of his district.

Courtney would invariably be described as “conservative”, and due to his position of power and the length of time he has served in government, would have to be thought of as the “establishment” standard bearer in this fledgling race.  He has a leadership PAC, a network of party operatives and campaign volunteers, and undoubtedly will have success at getting party elders on his side.

At first glance he would seem to make a compelling case – he has demonstrated an ability to show at least some appeal to moderates, and has a home base in an important part of the first Congressional district.  Consider the town of Sanford, where Courtney was able to beat his Democratic opponent 55%-42% in the last election, and in that same election Chellie Pingree beat Dean Scontras to the tune of 58%-42%.  If Courtney can be more competitive than Scontras in Sanford, and towns like it, he has a chance to do some damage against Pingree.

But at the same time, party activists I have spoken to groan when his name comes up.  He is viewed as little more than a party loyalist who is somewhat uninspiring on the stump, and “probably isn’t up for it”.  In addition, there are whispers behind the scenes that Courtney has a few areas of concern in his personal life that could potentially harm him when he enters the glare of a higher profile race.  On the phone with one southern Maine Republican activist yesterday, I was told “I suppose if there is no one else good to run, he could be our sacrificial lamb.”

Patrick Calder

Another entrant into the “outsider” role would be Portland based merchant mariner, Patrick Calder.

Calder is serious about running – serious enough that he already filed with the FEC.  He has begun organizing, has recruited a skeleton crew to help run the campaign, and even has a website up and running.

Calder made a run last November at the Maine House of Representatives, which rather unsurprisingly (it was a Portland district) proved unsuccessful.

I’ve spoken to Patrick a number of times about his potential run, and the case he makes to me is pretty simple:  Maine’s first Congressional district isn’t as liberal as people think it is, but it is very independent.  The Republican who beats Chellie Pingree is going to have to match the district, and he thinks he fits the bill.

He describes himself as a social moderate and a fiscal conservative – exactly the brand of Republican he feels can win in southern Maine.  And certainly his biography, attitude and positions put him in the same space of a lot of voters in the first district.  His biggest argument for winning the nomination is electability, which is based on his ideological leanings.  The trouble with that is that electability is a much larger issue than simply political philosophy – it also includes name recognition, campaign structure, strategy, personality, and so on.

Calder’s challenge, though, is mostly institutional.  He has no political base to start with, and will have to build (from scratch) an entire campaign apparatus.  Most first time Congressional candidates have a hard time coming to grips with “the beast” – the machinery of politics required to mount a strong campaign.

He is going to need volunteers.  He is going to need connections to the media.  He is going to need activists and operatives to work on his behalf.  He is going to need money (lots of it), and to do that he is going to need to be on the phone with donors (and not just a random list of them, either) for something like four hours a day, four days a week (maybe more).  And he is going to have to run a disciplined campaign, which will likely be made up of a large number of neophytes and amateurs (neither of which is a bad thing, it just makes it harder to control and be efficient).

That is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do, and it takes an individual who is driven and has the fire and passion to almost will it to be done.  It is something Dean Scontras was able to do.  If Calder can show the same dedication, devotion, and above all stomach that Scontras did, he has a good chance to run a strong campaign and threaten for the nomination.

If his heart isn’t in it, he won’t be able to raise the money, recruit the volunteers, or run the campaign that will be required to raise him out of relative obscurity and onto the big stage.  His first big test, in my mind, will be the fundraising report he files next quarter.  Not the quarter that is ending in a couple days – he has been away working and hasn’t had an opportunity to dive into the campaign yet – but next quarter, now that he is back and able to commit to doing serious work on behalf of his campaign.  If he puts up a solid number, than we can say he has the True Grit required to run a serious campaign.

Richard Snow

Richard Snow is the owner of Maine Indoor Karting, a successful business in southern Maine.  I’ve heard increasing buzz about his candidacy over the past couple of weeks, and got three phone calls Monday begging me for more information about him (which, since I’ve just started writing again, I don’t actually have).

He is also a retired Navy Commander, active in the Portland Rotary, is a Board member of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, and has a great deal of local community involvement.

“He’s the guy.” a prominent Republican with deep experience in the district told me last week.  Very positive buzz has been swirling around him from all corners, suggesting that he is a genuine person, hard worker, smart, successful, is an outsider (but a capable one) and is an appealing candidate in both the primary, and the general election, ideologically.

His argument is much the same as the recent trend of Republican candidates.  He is a successful businessman, knows what it is like in the real economy, and is a political outsider, untainted by Washington political establishment.

Those characteristics, of course, betray some of the same weaknesses as well.  An unproven ability to raise money in a race that will require a lot of it, a lack of seasoned political experience, the need to build a base and organization from scratch, etc.  These are real concerns, not only in the primary, but also in the general election against the very much established, very much rolling in money, Congresswoman Pingree.  And, much like Calder, much will depend on just how much fire he has in his belly for this fight.

Still, of all the candidates I have been hearing buzz about, he seems to have the most positive reviews thus far from the Republican activists I have spoken with.

Mark Gartley

Mark Gartley is one of those names that seems to just come up, all the time.  A perennial non-candidate (although he did twice run for Congress in the second district in the late 70s), his name was last bantered about in 2009, as he teased the idea of running against Chellie Pingree, but eventually opted out.  This time, I’m told he is more serious.

Gartley is a former Democrat and war veteran, and hasn’t been entirely successful in his previous political endeavors.

I’ll let Al Diamon give you a little background on him.  From an article published in late 2004, detailing his involvement in the Tax Cap Yes!campaign:

To fill that gap, TCY announced on August 16 that Mark Gartley was lending “his years of political and business experience” to the cause.

Gartley does, indeed, have lots of political experience, most of it on the losing side. A former prisoner of war in Vietnam, he ran for Congress in the state’s 2nd District in 1974, collecting just 29 percent of the vote. Another congressional bid in 1978 also fell short, but he improved to 42 percent. In between those campaigns, Gartley served as Maine’s secretary of state, although not, as TCY’s news release claims, “under” independent Gov. James Longley, a revered icon of fiscal conservatives. The secretary is chosen by the majority party in the Legislature, in that case, the Democrats.

By the mid-1990s, Gartley had moved to Southern Maine and shifted allegiances to the GOP. Last year, he agreed to head a group seeking approval from Westbrook voters to establish a racino in that city. The proposal was soundly defeated. This past spring, he ran for the Westbrook City Council, extending his streak of coming up on the short end of the vote.

Gartley and his folks have already filed an exploratory committee, and appear to be leaning on the Tea Party crowd for some early support.  Trying, at least.

In this race, he would seem to be the candidate who would most try to appeal to the conservative base in an attempt to get the nomination.  If both he and Courtney get in the race, it will be interesting to see what the dynamic between the two is, as they both court the conservative base.  Courtney’s establishment ties likely won’t be as poisonous as establishment ties were in 2010, so my guess is that Gartley would be marginalized if they both ran, but I suppose that will depend on how strong of a campaign he runs.  Based on the past, I wouldn’t guess it would be strong enough to do any real damage.

Undoubtedly, not all of these candidates will end up running – we don’t usually see big primaries for Congressional races.  Still, the crowd that is interested is starting to take shape, and these five names are the most likely that you will see running this cycle.

No matter who the Republican nominee is, Chellie Pingree proved in 2010 that she is willing to go negative to win, and use third party liberal organizations to smear her opponent.  She is going to sit on a mountain of cash, and will be very difficult to unseat.  The eventual Republican nominee is going to start off at a severe disadvantage, and will likely remain the underdog throughout the race.

Winning is not impossible, but if any of them want to have a chance, they had better start now, and get serious about winning.  It should be interesting to see how this pans out.


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Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.