Times Record: The race for Senate 19 (July 23, 2013)

The race for Senate District 19 is shaping up as a live political laboratory for next year’s Blaine House contest.

Let’s see, three-way race? Most likely.

Well-known Republican? Check.

Democratic caucus or primary? Yep.

Third-party progressive spoiler? Quite possibly, yes.

In a chamber currently split 19-15-1, that could become an even narrower proposition with a Republican win that would flip a seat currently held by Democrats. About the only likelihood is that the Senate is likely to add one more woman to its roster; it currently has only seven.

Given the importance and the margin for error, it becomes even more curious that Democrats failed to convince Seth Berry, the current House Majority Leader from Bowdoinham, to run. As the clear-cut favorite, he would have made holding this seat abundantly more easy for them.

As it is, it’s anyone’s guess who wins this. So it’s imperative voters pay very close attention to a race that will be hard fought and perhaps the subject of big expenditures by outside groups.

Lest you think no one outside Maine cares about little old Sagadahoc County, recall 2010, when, a week before Election Day, a national group focused on electing Republicans to state legislatures poured $400,000 into five key Maine Senate races using direct mail, TV and radio ads, and those eerie robocalls that disturb you at dinner.

Republicans won all five of those targeted seats, enough to swing the Senate to Republican control for the first time in 16 years.

In fact, as reported by Matthew Stone of the Bangor Daily News, the more than $3.5 million spent by third-party groups in the 2012 election cycle almost tripled Maine’s previous record for outside spending — $1.5 million, set in 2010.

Democrats learned their lesson. In 2012, the party poured nearly $885,000 into legislative races. Democrats also received substantial help from a newly formed, largely union-funded political action committee, the Committee to Rebuild Maine’s Middle Class, which sunk $758,000 into a range of races, all to help Democrats.

While the Maine Republican Party spent more on legislative races than the Democratic Party — about $921,000 — the GOP didn’t have the same help from other Republican-leaning committees. The second largest Republican spender, the Senate Republican Majority PAC, devoted $304,000 to Senate races.

Big money likes to focus on key races that could swing or tighten legislative control from one party to the other.

It also likes midyear and special elections where — because of the shortened campaign length and, in this case, a wide-open field of candidates, money could have an outsized influence on the outcome.

With the Democrats and Greens having made their selections, and Republicans on tap to pick their candidate tonight, the next step is to listen to what they — not the parties or the outside interests — say about the way forward for Mid-coast Maine.

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