And so it begins

Next week, voters will head to the polls and make their decision about who they want to represent the Democrats and the Republicans in the U.S. Senate election this fall. Who they choose will then face the daunting task of trying to slay the King monster and overtake the consensus front runner.

I’ve been asked more times than I can count who I think will win, so let me just say for one final time: I have no idea. Anyone who tells you they know who is going to win is lying to you.

On the Democratic side, we are dealing with a collection of minor leaguers. The big guns – Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud – kept their powder dry and took a pass on the race. This means that all the candidates running are low on money, low on name recognition and low on grassroots support. There is simply no way for any one of these scrappy go-getters to emerge as a clear favorite.

But somebody has to win. Lack of clear frontrunner notwithstanding, any one of the candidates has a legitimate path to the nomination.

Cynthia Dill is clearly the darling of the far left; Matt Dunlap is obviously the more moderate choice; and Jon Hinck is a darling of the environmentalists. The makeup of the primary will undoubtedly decide which one of them ends up surviving the gauntlet.

On the GOP side, the confusion mostly comes from the fact that the entire field is made up of the state’s most prominent Republicans, with none being significantly higher in stature than any of the others. Such is the game when the sitting secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer, a former Senate president, and a high ranking state senator are all facing off with each other.

I could lie to you and say that I have a read on which of them has gained the upper hand, but it would be nothing more than a guess. Turnout is going to be low, so the person who wins will have found a way to organize and get people out to the polls, so all I can expect is that somebody who has the operational wherewithal to accomplish that will end up as the winner.

But after the dust settles, the Democratic nominee and the Republican nominee will have to contend with King. The national media has, rather predictably, anointed King as some kind of Matrix-like chosen one — so inevitable that we may as well start calling him Mr. Senator right now.

But that isn’t true, either. Anyone can be beaten, and King’s biggest problem is that his only significant experience being challenged was in 1994 in his first gubernatorial contest. Back then, he was a blank slate and could tell us that he was whatever we wanted him to be. That year, he barely edged out a win.

In his re-election campaign, the national economy was doing so well (and Maine by extension), that neither party even bothered to seriously challenge him, and he didn’t even run a real race. He has faced no election since then, nor has he significantly participated in the political process.

In other words, his lead is very soft. His numbers will come down once he is challenged. He has already demonstrated that he isn’t particularly up for the challenge by continually trying to run away from the question of who he will caucus with in the Senate. His refusal to answer – especially when we all know what the answer is – makes him look like he is hiding something and only perpetuates and amplifies the questions.

That isn’t to suggest he won’t be a strong candidate. He will be. But the notion that he is an untouchable, inevitable Juggernaut of electoral strength is misplaced. With a coordinated campaign from both the left and the right, which challenges the crown on the King’s head, this can very quickly become a real race.

Let’s hope both parties’ nominees are up to the challenge because the last thing Maine needs is a coronation.

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.