BANGOR – Over the din of the 1,500 raucous anti-war protesters that surrounded her, one had to listen intently to hear Jean Hay Bright’s message.
But it’s a message the Democratic U.S. Senate contender believes will resonate loudly, far beyond the recent rally at the Bangor Waterfront and into voting booths around Maine on Nov. 7.
“This is the public sentiment about what’s going on in this country,” said Hay Bright, who has made an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq a centerpiece of her campaign to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe. “People are realizing there are enough of us to affect an election.”
Hay Bright, a 58-year-old author and organic farmer, specifically points to recent primary victories by anti-war candidates in Rhode Island and Connecticut. Snowe’s 2002 vote for the war, she said, and her subsequent votes to fund the conflict, put her out of touch with the majority of Mainers.
As for Snowe’s October call upon the Bush administration to change course in Iraq? Hay Bright said it rang not as a change of heart, but a change of political strategy as Election Day approaches.
The crowd at the Bangor rally was clearly not Snowe’s crowd. Some marchers wore white sanitation suits with the words “Snowe Removal” on the back. Others dressed as Maine’s recognizable senior senator, complete with her signature red suit and her tightly knotted black bun.
On seeing Hay Bright in the crowd, 55-year-old William Beal of Orrington made a beeline for his chosen candidate.
“I have your signs all over my lawn,” said Beal, carrying a giant homemade peace flag flying above an equally enormous American flag.
“She’s a common person. She’s raised a family. She’s a mother and a woman,” Beal later said of his support for Hay Bright, whose lapel stickers were on just about everyone’s shirt at the rally. “On the issues of war and issues important to Maine, she’s in tune.”
But even Beal, a longtime Democrat, acknowledges that beating Snowe – whose popularity Democrats likened to that of Jesus in one recent Washington Post story – will be difficult.
“It’s going to be very tough, but, hopefully, we can get the job done,” he yelled over a local rock band’s droning interpretation of John Lennon’s 1969 song “Give Peace a Chance.”
Hay Bright also acknowledges that she has considerable ground to make up in order to topple the incumbent, who has raised more than $2 million for her re-election campaign. To that point in the campaign, Hay Bright had raised roughly $80,000, she said, but remained positive in light of one recent poll showing Snowe’s popularity dropping from 72 percent in March to 53 percent in September.
Another poll released around the same time, however, still showed Snowe at 72 percent, making her among the most popular senators in the country.
Snowe’s popularity, in part, comes from the perception she is a moderate, Hay Bright said. But the Democrat’s campaign says Snowe’s voting record doesn’t warrant such a distinction, supporting Bush administration policies 82 percent of the time during his first term.
“We all know that the Bush administration and the Republicans in Congress are making a mess of this country,” Hay Bright told a Winterport crowd during her primary campaign against Orono lawyer Eric Mehnert, whom she narrowly defeated. “Those of us who have been paying attention know that Olympia Snowe is complicit in all of it.”
Hay Bright is the first woman to run against Snowe during her 29-year tenure in Congress. She has not been shy about taking Snowe to task for some of her recent votes – including her votes to confirm conservative Judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court and adopt a constitutional amendment banning flag burning.
Hay Bright, although she has never held public office, is no stranger to politics. She twice has run unsuccessfully for Congress, and she worked as a staffer for former Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Andrews.
She also has made some notable political friends along the way, including former presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. Hay Bright volunteered on his 2004 presidential bid, and Kucinich, a Democrat, came to Maine earlier this month to endorse her campaign.
“Jean is a vote to get out of Iraq and it is absolutely urgent to elect to the senate a woman with a commitment to peace,” Kucinich later said this week in an interview from Washington, D.C. “I think support for Democratic candidates is rising all over the country … and it’s happening in Maine.”
More on Jean Hay Bright’s campaign can be found online at: www.jeanhaybright.us/