You’ll forgive me for saying I told you so.
For more than a year now, I have been saying that Mike Michaud was a phenomenally weak candidate and that he would ultimately fall victim to a stronger-than-expected Paul LePage.
I have also been saying that Eliot Cutler was not a spoiler.
As I write this column, Governor LePage
has collected more than 48 percent of the vote, and is winning by 5 points. Eliot Cutler very obviously had nothing to do with LePage winning re-election.
Ordinarily I don’t like spiking the football on my own predictions, but in this case I feel more than a little vindicated, given the avalanche of liberal detractors who have criticized, mocked, dismissed and openly ridiculed those predictions over the preceding months.
My predictions were not out of left field, though. An honest assessment of this race should have seen this coming.
Michaud may have been very popular at the start of this election, but that popularity was, to the expert eye, very soft. He had never run a truly competitive race, he had no record in Congress to speak of, he was an obscure figure in Washington, and his approval rating was built entirely on his generally affable personality. In a hotly contested gubernatorial race, that balloon would quickly deflate.
And deflate it did. As the campaign wore on, his lack of record and anonymity, coupled with – and you’ll hear this criticism even among his supporters – his complete inability to articulate his vision for Maine, wore down that approval.
This wasn’t a matter of negative campaigning, but rather illumination. LePage raised about half of what Michaud did, and at least half of it, and outside group spending on his behalf, went to positive ads for the governor. Indeed, it was Michaud and his allies who went almost exclusively negative on LePage.
The truth was, the more voters saw of Michaud, the less they liked.
Beyond that, Paul LePage had a list of accomplishments. He had ideas for what his second term would look like. He had a vision for the state he wanted to lead. Even if you don’t like LePage, it is hard to argue with that.
Michaud, on the other hand, had none of that. When asked in a debate what the state could do that would make the biggest impact on jobs, his answer was, “fire Paul LePage.” A completely hollow argument for his election.
I have taken part in hundreds of political campaigns in my career, and never once have I seen a campaign succeed on the narrative of “not being the other guy.” It failed for John Kerry against George W. Bush in 2004. It failed for Mitt Romney in 2012 against Barack Obama. And it failed here in Maine this year.
Candidates need to give voters a reason to vote for them. Say what you want about Paul LePage, but he provided something that people could vote for.
And vote for him they did. As election night wore on, it was apparently almost immediately what had happened. Town after town in Michaud’s own district were breaking much more heavily for LePage than they had in 2010.
LePage’s winning margin in Kingfield was 28.71 percent, and he narrowly lost the town in 2010. In Trenton, his margin was 16.12 percent, and he lost by nearly 10 percent in 2010. Same trend line in Oxford, Hiram, Waterford, Minot, Enfield, Newburgh, Paris and countless others.
But in the first district the story was the same. The margins that Michaud expected to rack up there never materialized.
At the end of the day, the worst enemy of the left in Maine was their own spin.
They were so obsessed with the notion of LePage’s unpopularity that they built an entire campaign based on it, and only it.
They were so obsessed with berating Cutler voters into supporting Michaud that they didn’t notice that Eliot Cutler’s voters were his for a reason, and that even if he dropped out, Cutler’s voters would not flock to Michaud.
When you exist almost entirely in the echo chamber of your own creation, these types of things can happen.
Paul LePage won because he reminds most of us of somebody we know and love.
For me, the governor reminds me a great deal of my father, who passed away earlier this year. Boisterous. Loud. Uncompromising. Indelicate. Loves a good fight. Hard working. Real. Raw. Very French.
He is everyone’s father, uncle, cousin or neighbor. He is as quintessentially Maine as it gets, and the only people who don’t understand that are those who live in the insulated cocoons of elite media, academia, or transplant coast.
Congratulations to Governor LePage, as well as Congressman-elect Bruce Poliquin, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, the new Republican State Senate majority, and Speaker of the House Mark Eves and the legislative Democrats.
You all have your work cut out for you, and a mandate from the voters to work together for the best interest of Maine. May you all justify the people’s trust in you.