AUGUSTA – Despite an aggressive debating schedule that has featured lively dialogue among Maine’s five ballot candidates for governor, a southern Maine pollster and a University of Maine political science professor agreed Friday that little has changed during the run for the Blaine House and the race is Gov. John E. Baldacci’s to lose.
The election’s bottom line, according to MaryEllen FitzGerald of the Portland-based Critical Insights research group and Mark Brewer, who teaches political science at the University of Maine, is twofold:
. No dominant major opponent has emerged to challenge the Democratic incumbent.
. Despite Mainers’ dissatisfaction with the economy, tax rates and health care costs, they are reluctant to hold Baldacci accountable for the state’s problems.
“There is still a lot of pessimism and negativity out there,” FitzGerald said. “And while there is dissatisfaction with Baldacci, there’s less dissatisfaction than there was a year ago. His favorability numbers have leveled.”
“There is some discontent directed at [Baldacci] because he is the incumbent,” Brewer said. “There’s a lack of popularity there. But for a lot of people, while he’s viewed as a candidate who hasn’t done a great job, there’s no one out there other than Chandler Woodcock running on the Republican side – like maybe a Peter Mills. The problem for the other [three] candidates is that people don’t want to vote for them because they’re worried they will be throwing their vote away.”
In other campaign developments Friday, a new Maine Democratic Party television ad featuring former Republican gubernatorial candidate Sherry Huber warns Mainers against voting for GOP gubernatorial candidate Chandler Woodcock because of his stance against abortion. Woodcock has maintained throughout the campaign that he believes abortion is justifiable only in instances of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at stake. He also has said he would be supportive of any legislation that reflects those beliefs as governor.
In the ad, Huber does not advocate for any candidate, but she does clearly state that Woodcock opposes a “woman’s right to choose” an abortion.
“I’m a Republican, but Chandler Woodcock is out of touch with Maine people,” Huber says in the ad.
The ad tends to reinforce FitzGerald’s and Brewer’s beliefs that Woodcock’s conservative views on several social issues, particularly abortion, have hurt him among the majority of Maine women – including Republican women.
“Maine is just not a state with this big percentage of socially conservative voters,” Brewer said. “Woodcock is very socially conservative, and his opponents have done a very good job of labeling him as sort of a George Bush clone on social issues. That’s got two problems: First, Bush’s social issues aren’t particularly popular here and, secondly, Bush isn’t popular anywhere.”
Chris Jackson, Woodcock’s campaign manager, said Friday voters are less concerned about the Republican’s social beliefs and more intrigued by his desire to cut state spending, create jobs and lower health insurance costs in Maine. He discarded the Huber ad as hardly representative of Republicans.
“She also ran for governor as an independent, so apparently Jock McKernan was too extreme for her as well,” Jackson said. “I don’t think most people even know who she is.”
With the exception of Baldacci, all of the candidates expect to do better than the results of two voter surveys released earlier this week. A poll for WCSH-TV6 and WLBZ-TV2 gave the governor’s race to Baldacci. Conducted by SurveyUSA, the poll contained a 4 percent margin of error. In the statewide random telephone survey, 634 likely voters were asked: “If the election for governor were today, would you vote for: Republican Chandler Woodcock, Democrat John Baldacci, Green Party candidate Pat LaMarche, independent candidate Barbara Merrill, independent candidate Phillip NaPier, or some other candidate?”
According to the SurveyUSA poll, 42 percent favored Baldacci, 34 percent would vote for Woodcock, 12 percent chose Merrill, 9 percent favored LaMarche and 1 percent planned to vote for Napier. Only 2 percent of those surveyed were undecided.
In FitzGerald’s poll released Thursday, Baldacci was favored by an identical 42 percent of the respondents followed by Woodcock with 25 percent, Merrill, 11 percent; LaMarche, 7 percent and NaPier, 1 percent. Twelve percent of the respondents were undecided in the poll of 600 likely voters that carried a 3.5 percent margin of error.
Jesse Connolly, Baldacci’s campaign manager, said both polls are more or less consistent with the Democrat’s polling and that with 11 days left in the campaign, the governor’s politicking strengths will clearly be evident.
“He is absolutely tireless and he’s going all over the state to meet people in this last week or so,” said Connolly. “It’s been said before, but it’s true: Nobody campaigns better one-on-one than Gov. Baldacci.”
Jackson said neither of the polls even came close to mirroring what he believes Woodcock’s numbers are, and he was optimistic of an outcome that would favor his boss.
“Combined with a strong get-out-the vote effort, I think we’re going to be OK,” he said.
Although both polls had Merrill at around 12 percent, she said Friday her numbers were higher than that. She expects to double her popularity each week with her persistent independent message and the endorsements of some prominent Maine politicians.
“I’m the only candidate who has released a very detailed economic development recovery plan, and people are really responding to it,” Merrill said.
Brewer agreed Merrill was the “real wild card” in the governor’s race and said it was his impression that many undecided and unenrolled voters viewed her campaign favorably.
“Her ads are really effective,” Brewer said. “If she can build the perception that her campaign is gaining momentum – even if it really isn’t – then all of a sudden – it is,” Brewer said. “If she can convince enough people, it can almost become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
LaMarche’s failure to break into double-digits did not square with the level of support the candidate is seeing on the campaign trail, according to spokeswoman Maribeth Stuart.
“You know, they all say that Pat’s the best candidate,” said Stuart, who also hears from those afraid that a vote for LaMarche will hurt Baldacci and, as a result, become a vote for Woodcock. “If we can only get people to cast a vote for their hopes and their dreams, instead of a vote that plays to their fears.”