The 2014 gubernatorial race has begun

One of the most common complaints about U.S. presidential elections is that with every cycle the madness begins earlier. Each time, candidates announce sooner, run never-ending, perpetual campaigns, and the American people don’t get much of a break.

In Maine, this trend appears to be happening for our gubernatorial elections because, almost two years ahead of time, the race has begun.

Already, the governor’s political machine is springing into action, with Maine People Before Politics running ads in support of LePage’s legislative agenda and bringing public attention to the fiscal irresponsibility of his predecessor, former Gov. John Baldacci.

Already Baldacci is attempting (though not with much credibility) to fire back at LePage, laughingly suggesting that criticism of the Baldacci administration for recklessly expanding Medicaid and not paying the resulting bills represented a “personal attack” that was “personally motivated,” not “policy motivated”.

Someone should ask Baldacci what constitutes a policy critique — if now a criticism of him expanding a government program and accumulating debt is somehow not “policy motivated.” But I digress.

In any event, beyond LePage and Baldacci, independent Eliot Cutler is circling the state, rebuilding his never-all-that-dormant political operation, volunteering his thoughts on raising the minimum wage and inserting himself into any public policy debate he can.

And already U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, is doing the same, crawling out from obscurity to attack the governor on a number of issues in the event that he throws his hat in the ring as well.

Ladies and gentlemen, the race has begun, and it is only going to grow more intense as time goes on.

While it is true that there have always been potential candidates in Maine who jockey ahead of time, position themselves for a run and get ready to take on the task of trying to win the Blaine House, never before has it happened this early.

For instance, Maine’s current Gov. Paul LePage got a much later start last time around. In October of 2009, I had the pleasure of conducting an interview with then-Mayor LePage, which just so happened to be one of the first — if not the first — official interviews he gave as a candidate.

That would be a full six months later than now in this election cycle — if you were to compare 2010 and 2014.

I suppose one of the reasons is just the natural tendency of all politicians to get an earlier start to better prepare themselves for a run. Politics has long since become a professionalized business, and acquiring staff, writing campaign strategies, organizing the fundraising and all the other nuts and bolts of campaigning can, and often needs to be, done earlier and earlier.

But there is another reason, at least in this case.

All of the candidates that will be running in 2014 have run before and are uniquely motivated to work harder this time. No matter what the final list of candidates looks like, we are going to be looking at a group of political titans in Maine, the likes of which a gubernatorial race has not seen.

Go look through history, and you won’t find anything quite like this.

In 2006 it was a weak Baldacci versus an obscure Republican (Chandler Woodcock) and an independent (Barbara Merrill). In 2002 it was Baldacci against businessman Peter Cianchette. 1998 didn’t even see a competitive race. 1994 saw a washed up former governor (Joe Brennan) against a little-known bureaucrat (Susan Collins) and a minor television personality (Angus King).

The closest thing to this race we have seen would probably have to be the 1990 race, with incumbent Gov. John McKernan facing off against former Gov. Joe Brennan. In that case, two out-sized Maine politicians in or around their primes faced off against each other in an extremely close race.

Yet this race has — or at least will have — three major players, not two. An incumbent governor with perhaps the most loyal supporters any governor has seen in Maine political history, a former two-term governor (or a five-term congressman) with the Democratic Party mostly united behind him and the ability to raise plenty of money, and a very talented, well-known and generally well-liked independent candidate who came within a few thousand votes of winning in 2010.

Three real candidates. Three people who have no intention of losing. Three people talented enough to win. I’m honestly surprised the fireworks didn’t begin sooner.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.