Joseph Brennan’s rope-a-dope style allowed him to float through the primary without once resorting to his stinger. He had the full range of the state. He kept moving.
The former governor, however, is finding the ring smaller for the main event, and the counterpunching of independent Angus King is more effective than was that of opponents in the Democratic primary. In the next few weeks, Brennan will have to decide whether he is butterfly or bee.
King, criticized by Brennan as untested in the political arena, swung back effectively late last week. A self-made millionaire, King used a forum in Rockport to point out three regional success stories, including the Samoset and the Lobster Festival, to illustrate two telling points: Leaders in business are tested often. Companies in Maine have it tough (state policies make it rougher than it needs to be), and the people who run them are on the firing line. It’s live ammo in the real world ouside of Augusta. In 1990, 199 Maine businesses went under. In 1991, 392 closed down, an increase of 97 percent. Employment in Augusta held steady. “Government is no mystery and you don’t have to be in the political priesthood to do it,” King said, identifying the implication in Brennan’s barb that “only government service counts.”
Service is helpful — Republican candidate Susan Collins, a former cabinet member, is an example of how insider knowledge of government can improve a candidate’s resume — but it is not essential, any more than hard time in the private sector is necessary to be an effective politician.
The system has seen plenty of both. There are political leaders whose last serious fling with free enterprise was a summer job during college. There are businessmen (Ross Perot, the most conspicuous example), who can’t make the personal and professional leap from running a company, where employees are conditioned to say yes, to running a government, where stubborn people disagree with top management.
This isn’t the primary, in which a hard core of partisans can make a soft candidate appear strong. This is the general election, and there are many undecided voters who want to know who these candidates are and what they stand for.
It is early in the campaign, but the message from King to Brennan is clear. The former governor won’t be able to float and bob until November.