Washington Post opinion writer Marc Thiessen raised plenty of eyebrows here in Maine recently with his claim that “Maine is not lost” to the Republican U.S. Senate caucus. GOP nominee Charlie Summers, Maine’s Secretary of State, is showing signs of life, Thiessen claimed, gaining rapidly in the polls thanks to a negative advertising blitz by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Intriguing stuff, seeing as most political observers - and the Democratic Party - have pretty much written off the race to independent Angus King, a popular two-term governor who led Summers by 28 percent in the last independent poll (and Democrat Cynthia Dill by a staggering 48 percent). What, pray tell, was Thiessen basing this claim upon?
Not much, it turns out.
Thiessen claims - without attribution - that “king’s lead over Summers dropped by 10 points” since the chamber’s $400,000 advertising bomb hit the airwaves. Since there have been no independent polls released in that time period, it would seem this claim is based on the Summers campaign’s own internal polling, which claimed the same margin. Other bloggers have cited this data as if it had come from the newspaper I work for, the Portland Press Herald, which hasn’t released a poll since before the chamber began running its “King of Spending” and “King of Mismanagement” ad campaigns.
As my colleague, John Richardson noted, “the Summers campaign is re-spinning its own poll, sending out fundraising letters and press releases that cite poll numbers published by various news organizations. The campaign also doesn’t mention that the numbers are from its poll.”
Thiessen correctly notes that “Maine is a cheap state in which to run” as it took “just $400,000 to saturate the airwaves on every network in the state during the Olympic Games,” but it’s not at all clear if that campaign had the desired effect. The U.S. Chamber’s Maine affiliates are backtracking away from the ad campaign, knowing Mainers have a relatively low threshold of tolerance for negative advertising. In the 2010 gubernatorial race, a negative ad against another independent candidate, Eliot Cutler, backfired on the Democrats.
But the columnist then goes on to declare that “Summers is a proven winner at the polls” having won a state senate seat (in the conservative suburb of Scarborough) and having allegedly “won statewide in 2010 when he was elected Maine’s secretary of state.”
Only Maine doesn’t have a popularly elected Secretary of State. Summers was elected by the Republican controlled legislature in 2010, not the voters. And he’s lost his three bids for federal office — albeit in the more liberal of Maine’s two Congressional districts - which isn’t to say Summers can’t win, but just that he’s far from “a proven winner”. It also doesn’t help that Summers’ former mentor, the seat’s current occupant Olympia Snowe, is pointedly not endorsing him.
Does Summers have a chance at taking the seat? Maybe, but there’s no firm evidence of that just yet.
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