Here comes sickness

Politics and Other Mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  October 11, 2014

Forget Ebola. Emily Cain has been diagnosed with a far deadlier ailment: Libby Mitchell Disease.

Cain is a Democratic state senator and candidate for Congress in Maine’s 2nd District. After easily winning the June primary, she was supposed to cruise into office in November because she’s smart and likable, while her opponent is a Tea Party extremist from the 1st District with an obnoxious personality and a history of losing elections.

That’s probably what would have happened if Cain hadn’t become infected with the dreaded Mitchell virus, which is always fatal to political ambitions and for which there is no cure. This illness is named after the Democrats’ 2010 gubernatorial nominee, who finished a distant third in the race with just 19 percent of the vote, due to a lackluster campaign style, a failure to respond to attacks by her opponents and cluelessness about public discontent with the economy.

The Cain brain trust must have picked up the virulent germs while reading the Mitchell playbook.

In western Maine, where I live, Cain’s campaign is invisible. No lawn signs. No phone calls. No candidate appearances.

When I mentioned this to a prominent campaign strategist, that expert dismissed my observations. “That area is staunchly Republican,” the strategist said. “It doesn’t make sense for her to waste a lot of resources there.”

But on a recent trip through heavily Democratic Androscoggin County, I spotted just a single Cain sign. It was in the window of the Dems’ Lewiston campaign office.

I may have seen one of her TV spots, but it was so forgettable that it could have been selling some other candidate. Or dog food. Cain did win the backing of independent US Senator Angus King, whose earlier endorsement of independent Eliot Cutler’s gubernatorial bid failed to boost him to even Libby Mitchell-like numbers.

My inbox is stuffed with emails from the Maine Republican Party containing semi-accurate attacks on Cain for votes she took in the Legislature. If her campaign has responded, it’s escaped my notice. Several reporters have told me they’ve had problems getting responses to queries from Cain or her staff. When the Portland Press Herald ran an article on how the congressional candidates stood on President Obama’s decision to authorize air strikes in Syria, Cain was the only politician the paper couldn’t reach.

Even with these terrible symptoms, a feverish Cain would still have a chance to stagger to victory if her GOP opponent was running his typical campaign. In earlier unsuccessful tries for governor and US Senate, Bruce Poliquin displayed a disdainful attitude toward anyone who disagreed with him, including potentially persuadable voters who took issue with any of his hard-right stands.

This time, he’s doing things differently.

Poliquin spent his two-year stint as state treasurer preparing for another run for major office. During that controversial tenure, he gradually came to realize that his propensity for engaging in confrontations with the media and ordinary citizens was doing him no good, having earned him a reputation as a blowhard with a hyper-inflated ego. He needed a new persona, preferably one that less accurately reflected his true self.

Poliquin took lessons in how to appear pleasant. He began avoiding reporters. He stonewalled efforts to set up debates with both Cain and independent Blaine Richardson, claiming Richardson wasn’t a serious candidate and didn’t deserve the honor of sharing a stage with such an esteemed public figure as himself.

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