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Waiting for the Sirenís call

Plenty of Republicans want to be governor. But none of them appears eager to do the dirty work necessary to win the job.

Being members of the GOP (Godís Own Politicians), these potential candidates seem to expect the heavens to open and, through divine intervention, to be thrust directly into the Blaine House, never having sullied their souls with such demeaning distractions as fundraising, campaigning, or voting. Unfortunately for these not-quite contenders, the longer they loll around on the shore waiting for the seas to part, the more of an advantage they concede to their competition.

Democratic Governor John Baldacci has spent the last three years proving he canít walk on water. His slip on some frozen H2O in February resulted in a cracked rib and provided a metaphor for his haphazard approach to advancing his political agenda. Nor has Baldacci been able to turn water into wine. He has attempted to douse any serious attempt at tax reform, while watering down the idea of property-tax relief and draining the stateís coffers through deficit spending. Thatís produced some vintage whines.

Given his less-than-mythical performance, the governor ought to be vulnerable in next yearís election. But even weak incumbents are tough to unseat when the opposition, however blessed, is disorganized and under-financed. Republican candidates should already be raising money for a campaign that will likely cost over $3 million. To date, none is, and rich GOP donors arenít about to thrust large amounts of cash into the hands of ditherers.

"In 2004, we had good candidates in both the 1st and 2nd congressional districts," said a Republican activist, "but they didnít win because they started late. We donít want to repeat that mistake in 2006 with the governorís race."

So why havenít the GOPís big shots united behind a candidate? Because all their gubernatorial wannabes have at least one serious drawback.

US Senator Susan Collins could have the nomination for the asking. But Collins isnít asking. In spite of Web-site speculation, Collins hasnít made a move in the direction of Augusta and almost certainly wonít. Write her alleged candidacy off as wishful thinking.

Peter Cianchette, the Republicanís 2002 nominee, could again be the standard bearer in 2006 ó if he wants the job. Which, according to an informed source, he might not. Cianchette has business and family obligations that could interfere with his political ambitions and heís said to be considering putting off another campaign until 2010.

Rick Bennett, the former state senator from Norway, told the Lewiston Sun Journal a run for governor in í06 was "very unlikely," but insiders say heís still assessing the situation. On the plus side, Bennett is a moderate from the 2nd District, which would help him cut into Baldacciís base in the northern part of the state, while allowing him to make inroads among liberal voters in the south. On the minus side, Bennett has already lost to Baldacci once, in a 1994 congressional contest.

Paul Davis, the Senate minority leader from Sangerville, would be a popular choice among GOP conservatives. Trouble is, GOP conservatives donít win statewide races. Davis might get a couple of dozen votes in Portland. Then again, that could be overly optimistic. Davis has admitted to friends heís unlikely to beat Baldacci and is only considering a run to make sure the party has some kind of candidate.

Peter Mills, the state senator from Cornville, also has an ideological problem, but itís the opposite of Davisís. Mills is seen as too liberal. "Heís probably marginally more conservative than Baldacci," said a Republican campaign strategist. "But I canít see myself voting for him in a primary." Millsís advocacy in the current Legislature for a sales-tax increase put him in the same camp with Democratic leftists. An endorsement from Ethan Strimling isnít going to improve his prospects.

David Emery of Tenants Harbor served four terms in the US House before losing a 1982 Senate race to George Mitchell. He attempted a comeback in 1990 by challenging Democrat Tom Andrews for his old seat, only to lose in a landslide. Heís renowned in the GOP for his polling expertise, but his margin of past errors as a candidate makes him a desperation choice in 2006.

Brian Hamel is generally credited with turning the defunct Loring Air Force Base in Limestone into one of northern Maineís few economic success stories. But Hamelís 2002 congressional race against Baldacci-clone Michael Michaud went nowhere. Maybe heís just a private-sector kind of guy.

Last ó and least ó thereís Darlene Curley (campaign slogan: Who?). Curley is a second-term state representative from Scarborough, who probably figures her candidacy isnít significantly more ridiculous than the rest of this list.

If none of the above proves adequate, thereís always Republicansí oft-professed faith.

They can pray.

Get down to fundamentals by emailing me at ishmaelia@gwi.net

The Politics and Other Mistakes archive.

Issue Date: May 20 - 26, 2005
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