“As Maine Goes For Democrat Kevin O’ Connell, So Goes Down Susan Collins” March 15, 2020
While most of us were watching the results of the 3/03/2020 Super Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primaries, we must not forget that other races with political significance were also occurring down-ballot. In Maine, with 86% of the votes reported, former VP Joe Biden was declared the winner over VT Senator Bernie Sanders by a 1.1% margin (nytimes.com, 3/03/20). At the same time that this nail-biter race was being decided, Democrat Kevin O’ Connell handily won a special election over GOPer Garrel Craig by a 16% margin, 58%-42% for ME House District (HD) 128 (wabi.tv/content, 3/03/20). In American politics, there used to be a saying, “As Maine goes, (in presidential elections), so goes the nation.” Although that maxim has not been reliable for a very long time, O’ Connell’s victory does not bode well for Demagogue Donald in the Pine Tree State and, especially, for vulnerable GOP Senator Susan Collins. Susan Collins’ defeat is crucial to the Democrats retaking the U.S. Senate. Let’s discuss this ME 128 HD race.
The ME 128 HD contains part of the city of Brewer (legislaturemain.gov/house). Brewer is located in Penobscot County, ME and constitutes part of the Bangor, ME Metropolitan Statistical area. Brewer had a population of 9,482 at the 2010 census. The ME House of Representatives consists of 151 voting- members with each district representing about 8,800 citizens (ME Courier-Gazette, Inc., Isaacson, wikipedia.org). Brewer is located in ME’s 2nd Congressional District (CD). The 2nd CD, in northern and central ME, is heavily forested and covers more than 85% of the state. It is larger than the states of MA, New Hampshire, and Vermont combined. The economic pillars are fishing, mill towns, lumber, and potatoes (Cohen & Cook, 2020 Political Almanac). Brewer was noted for its brick building and saw-milling. It still has a significant ice industry. Brewer lost a major pulp and paper mill in 2004, the Eastern Manufacturing Company (archive.org/details). Many jobs in the area went to Canada and other foreign markets (Cohen & Cook 2020).
The 2nd CD is not big on either major political party. In 2016, GOPer Trump made multiple appearances in the ME 2nd and appealed to its blue-collar and anti-free trade voters. He clobbered Hillary by 10 points, flipping a district that had gone for Obama by 9 points in 2012. The 2016 presidential race was the first time that ME’s two congressional districts split in a presidential election, with the 1st Portland, Maine CD going for Hillary by 15 points. ME allocates Electoral College votes by congressional districts and Trump’s 2nd CD win was crucial for him (Cohen & Cook 2020 Almanac). The latest Cook PVI gives the ME 2nd an R+2 swingy lean.
In 2016, the Brewer, ME 128 House District (HD) also favored Demagogue Donald by nearly 8 points (dlcc.org, 3/03/20). In the 128th HD, GOPer Garrel Craig defeated Democratic incumbent Arthur Verow by a 1.16% margin in 2016 (ME House, Dist. 128, 2016 General Election). However, in anti-Trump year 2018, the results in swingy ME House District 128 changed. In a rematch, Democrat Verow defeated Craig by a 4.4 percent margin (2018 Dist. 128 ME House Election). On 12/19/2019, State Rep. Verow died of a heart attack (bangordailynews.com, 12/19/19, Pendharkar). The special election to replace Verow was scheduled for 3/03/2020. Penobscot County Democrats chose Kevin O’ Connell as their nominee, while GOPers selected Garrel Craig (wabi.tv/content, 1/25/20).
Democrat Kevin O’Connell worked as a lineman for Emera Maine for more than 30 years. He is a 24-year veteran of the ME Air National Guard and served on several deployments, including one in Iraq. Prior to winning the ME 128 HD election, O’Connell served the city of Brewer for 30 years in several capacities. He was on the school board as well as the parks and recreation committees. O’Connell served on the Brewer City Council and was Brewer’s mayor for two terms, in 2013 and 2017 (bangordailymews.com, Pendharkar, 3/03/20). O’Connell was helped by strong Democratic turnout. As was previously stated, the ME128th HD special election was held on Super Tuesday when ME Democratic voters were heavily and enthusiastically voting in a closely contested presidential primary to determine who was the best candidate to defeat Demagogue Donald (See bangordailynews.com, 3/03/20). Another reason for increased “Team Blue” turnout in ME was that in 2020, ME had switched from a caucus state to a primary election. Caucus states encourage only small groups of dedicated activists to vote. In caucuses, people have to sit for hours and go through lengthy discussions and multiple votes. Caucuses discourage people with disabilities, people who work night shifts, and people who lack good transportation to the polls. In 2016, only about 47,000 ME Democrats showed up at their caucuses and Bernie Sanders, propelled by activists, beat Hillary Clinton. In 2020, with a normal primary that makes it easier to vote, turnout in ME more than quadrupled, and Biden beat Sanders. Turnout went from nearly 47,000 in 2016 to more than 194,000 (See vox.com, Lopez, G., 3/04/20).
GOPers in the 128th ME HD had no glamor races on Super Tuesday 2020. All they could do was canvass throughout Brewer to get out the vote for Garrel Craig (bangornews.com). Still, Craig was not an unknown candidate. Craig, remember, had strong name and political recognition. In 2016, while Trump was carrying the ME 128th HD by nearly 8 points, Donald’s coattails helped Craig defeat then Democratic incumbent Verow. Craig spent one term in the ME House before Verow defeated him in his 2018 rematch. And how did Trump-assisted Craig vote during his one 2017 term? Just as a Trump-sympathetic GOPer would. Craig received a lifetime 88% score from the American Conservative Union (Vote Smart, 9/25/18). The ME Right to Life Committee gave Craig a perfect 100% anti-choice score, while ME’s Planned Parenthood Action Fund gave him a near basement 25% rating (Vote Smart, 12/07/18). During Craig’s legislative term, he introduced an act to slow the rate at which the state’s minimum wage would increase. Fortunately, this bill died in the ME House chamber (ballotpedia.org/Garrel Craig). You get the idea.
Besides the very swingy ME 2nd CD and its 128th HD, the entire Pine Tree State has often shown a quirky, contrary-minded streak (See Cohen & Cook 2020 Almanac). It often favors state and federal legislators who call themselves “Independents.” In 1974, ME elected Independent James Longley, a former GOPer, as Governor. In 2010, ME came close to electing Independent Eliot Cutler as Governor. Angus King, a former Democratic Governor, now serves in the U.S. Senate as an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats (Cohen & Cook 2020). Current GOP Senator Susan Collins has always “claimed,” translation, pretended to be an “independent.” After her votes to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, her “YEA” for the top 1% tax cut, and her decision to acquit Trump at his impeachment trial, many ME residents realize Collins is nothing but an “independent” pretender. The most recent poll has ME House Speaker Democrat Sara Gideon leading Collins 47%-43% (Public Policy Polling, 3/05/20). Yes, these results look good, but GOP Majority Obstructionist Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell and his allies will prop Collins up with all the money she needs and the race will be no “cakewalk.” Still, in 2020, GOPers could not get well-known Trump-friendly Craig elected in a swingy district that both he and Donald carried in 2016. Hopefully, Democrat O’Connell’s special election win means trouble for vulnerable Sen. Susan Collins. If on 11/03/2020, ME Democrats come out in droves plus as they did on Super-Tuesday, we will have a new updated maxim, “As Maine Goes For Democrat Kevin O’Connell, So Goes Down Susan Collins.”