AUGUSTA — National liberal groups have reported pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into Maine in hopes of helping Democrats regain ground and influence the 2021 redrawing of political maps in the traditionally independent-leaning state.
In more than two dozen contested primaries Tuesday, voters will pick who will face off in the November race for governor, Legislature and the 2nd Congressional District. Republican Gov. Paul LePage is term-limited from running again, and Democrats are down to 74 seats in the 151-seat House and 17 seats in the 35-seat Senate.
Liberals are trying to attract Maine’s rural residents in areas hurt by the closure of paper mills and the departure of those seeking jobs elsewhere. In 2016, such voters in Maine’s 2nd District made history: The state for the first time split its four electoral votes and sent one to the Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump.
Jason Bailey of Warren visited the State House on Friday and said he wasn’t sure if he’d vote Tuesday, but hoped political donations are coming from “true” Mainers.
“I think there should be a little more equality for the working class,” he said. “Taxes keep going up and they expect us to pay more.”
Nearby, Freeport attorney Kathy Biberstein said she dislikes the influence of undisclosed, out-of-state political donors, but feels less concerned about out-of-state groups funded by small donors.
“We in Maine believe that this race is kind of a rehearsal space for the national level,” she said. “The governor here is as divisive as the president and perhaps even as confrontational and sensational.”
Maine’s 2018 races will heat up after Tuesday primaries, when one in four voters are expected to turn out and use a new ranked-choice voting method that could delay results.
FUNDS FLOW IN FROM OUT OF STATE
Last week, the Maine Democratic Party reported a $104,000 contribution from a national group that works to elect down-ballot Democrats, which hopes to flip Maine’s Senate and seven other chambers this fall. Maine Democratic groups have reported at least $500,000 in contributions from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee since last fall, in addition to $50,000 from the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Emerging American Majorities.
Maine Democrats have reported $70,500 in contributions since last year from the Democratic Governors’ Association, which is spending $20 million to elect governors in Maine and seven other states where governors play a key role in redistricting.
“We’re confident that one of our strong Democratic candidates will beat whichever LePage wannabe emerges from the Republican primary,” said governors’ association press secretary Melissa Miller.
Meanwhile, the Congressional Leadership Fund – a Republican Super PAC supporting incumbent 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin – has opened offices in Maine and four other hotly contested, Republican-held congressional districts ahead of the November race.
In the lead-up to the primary, gubernatorial candidates are attacking opponents over spending by out-of-state groups.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Adam Cote has criticized a $192,500 recent ad-buy from a Maine group linked to Washington, D.C.-based EMILY’s List, which in January endorsed Maine Attorney General Janet Mills in the Democratic primary.
“To have an outside group, no matter who it is, drop $200,000 into a Maine gubernatorial race to attack one candidate, six days before an election, is unprecedented and exactly what people hate about politics,” Cote said.
EMILY’s List, which helps elect female Democrats who support abortion rights, last week made a $300,000 contribution to the newly established Maine Women Together, which reported buying ads opposing Cote ahead of Tuesday’s primary. A spokeswoman said that under campaign finance law, EMILY’s List can’t know how its contribution will be used.
Mills said she’s “proud” to have the support of EMILY’s List, which says it doesn’t accept donations over $5,000.
AD WARS IN 2ND DISTRICT
In the 2nd District, a group called the Maine Outdoor Alliance spent thousands on television ads through mid-May that champion primary candidate Lucas St. Clair’s support for the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
But the group hasn’t had to disclose its donors because, in part, the ad doesn’t directly endorse St. Clair. He is facing Democratic Assistant House Leader Jared Golden and bookseller Craig Olson on Tuesday in hopes of unseating incumbent Poliquin in November.
Maine Outdoor Alliance officer Nathan Deyesso – who was St. Clair’s best man at his wedding – declined to comment.
St. Clair has called on the group to stop its spending and disclose its donors. Meanwhile, Golden’s recent ads display an image of St. Clair as Golden vows to reject “dark money.”