Maine Democratic Party State Committee
U.S. Senate race Post Election Analysis
By Jean Hay Bright
November 19, 2006
Here's my Post election analysis:

Support from the grassroots for my campaign was tremendous. That's what kept me going. So many people, who shared our vision for where we needed to go in this country. And so many people who shared our dismay over what has been happening, and Olympia Snowe's complicity in all that. We now know that about 110,000 people in the state of Maine were paying attention, and shared that vision and those concerns.

Support from the Maine Democratic Party was helpful. Howard Dean's Coordinated Campaign structure worked better than I've ever seen a coordinated campaign work. Thanks to the vote of the State Committee in August, my campaign had access to the VAN (Voter Access Network), and the very useful access to all the regional and county campaign headquarters. The distribution of our campaign materials, through party canvassing and by state house and senate candidates, was very helpful. And, I have to say, the field of legislative house and senate candidates this year was stellar.

On the other hand, support from traditional deep-pocket Maine Democratic contributors - practically non-existent.

Support from the national Democratic organization, except for Howard Dean's 50-state strategy, was also non-existent.

In my campaign, we wanted to get away from the traditional model that money is everything. And we ended up doing that, almost by default, when money from traditional sources just wasn't to be had.

It wasn't for lack of trying. I called dozens of traditional deep-pocket types, people who knew me at least slightly so I wouldn't have to start from scratch. And I kept getting stonewalled. "Too tapped out," "burned out from politics," "business has not been good," "I'll send you money" that never materialized, repeated voice messages never returned, donations a fraction of normal amounts. One long-time political operative promised me, four times, to send money. A check finally arrived last month - for $25.

After repeated, persistent rejection, it became apparent that that approach was a severe waste of my time. So I stopped, and hit the road. As people kept telling me, I was everywhere.

And I discovered, on the ground, at all those events I attended, that I had two fundraising perception problems. One was national, and one was unique to Maine.

Many people were reasonably assuming that the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and EMILY's List were providing money and support, because that is their supposed reason for existing. [The stated mission of EMILY's List -- Early Money Is Like Yeast -- is to get pro-choice Democratic women elected to Congress. I qualified on all counts.] Both organizations adamantly refused to help, despite our repeated attempts at dialog and the many calls from members and supporters of both of those organizations who told me they assumed the money they sent to both of those organizations would be helping out my campaign.

This was not just a case of neglect or ignoring. It was what the Republicans call active "de-funding" of a race - not supporting a candidate and discouraging others from supporting a candidate. Not only would the DSCC not provide money, it absolutely refused to even do an e-mail blast promoting our campaign. Even calls from Maine’s Governor John Baldacci personally to the DSCC chair Sen. Charles Schumer, explaining just how winnable this race was inside the state of Maine, could not get the DSCC off the dime.

This is totally unacceptable, and the Democratic Party should not tolerate it. The Democratic Party needs to take the DSCC chief Sen. Chuck Schumer and his gang to the woodshed. It’s bad enough for Schumer to personally support Maine’s Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe and Connecticut’s former-Democratic-and-current-Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, but he certainly should not be doing things like that in the name of the Democratic Party. [Maine's Republican Sen. Susan Collins campaigned for Lieberman in Connecticut.]

So for potential deep-pocket donors, the logical read of a lack of national support for a duly elected Democratic nominee translates into this - if they don't think she's a credible candidate, why should I waste my money?

The DNC must insist that the DSCC provide a reasonable baseline monetary support to ALL Democratic nominees in all states, early on. Likewise for the DCCC.

It turns out that I was not alone in being "de-funded" by the national Democrats. One Democratic Congressional candidate in another state took out a full-page ad in The Nation magazine, asking for money because the DCCC refused to help him out. Why? He claimed it was because he was anti-war. I am anti-war, and have been my entire campaign. Was that the reason I was shut out at the national level? Because Schumer voted for the Iraq War Resolution in 2002 - as did Maine's Olympia Snowe?

It is essential, for our own credibility as a party, for the party to support its Democratic nominees, at all levels.

Which brings up the next issue.

Compounding the problem for me was Maine's Clean Election Fund. People asked me in emails why they were not seeing ads for me, when they were seeing two other women running for statewide office with ads all over the television, for months. As late as last Thursday, at the Hancock County Democrats volunteer appreciation meeting, I was asked by two different people why I had not run as a Clean Election candidate. These are party activists, people who were at that meeting in Ellsworth because they had been engaged the whole election cycle. They voted for me. Most of them in that room contributed some money to my campaign. Yet clearly not all of them understood what was going on logistically, on the ground.

Maine’s Clean Election Fund has been a powerful tool in reshaping the political landscape in Maine. But, contrary to popular perception, it is only available to candidates running for Governor and for seats in the State House and State Senate in the Maine Legislature. It does not extend to federal candidates, for the U. S. House of Representatives or U. S. Senate.

So, many people were erroneously assuming that I was getting DSCC money, money from EMILY’s List, and/or Clean Election money, or that I had the opportunity to get Clean Election money but chose not to take it.

With their $850,000 each in public Clean Election money, those two women who were running all those TV ads, gubernatorial candidates Barbara Merrill (a former Democrat running as an independent) and Green Independent Patricia LaMarche, got 21% and 9.5% of the vote in Maine respectively. That's more than 31 percent combined, almost a third, who voted for non-Democrats in a five-way governor's race.

Green Party activists who DID understand the dynamic and who could see the Democratic Party was not supporting me kept asking me why I was running as a Democrat. [Maine Greens did not field a U.S. Senate candidate, and at their party convention last Spring briefly toyed with the idea of a cross-party endorsement. Did I mention I’m an organic farmer? Like Montana's new Democratic U.S. Senator-elect Jon Tester?]

Several supporters of former-Democrat Bill Slavick, who left the Democratic Party last Spring to run as an independent in this U.S. Senate race, also asked me why I was running as a Democrat.

To both groups, I would point to the great support of the Maine Democratic Party at the grassroots level, and to the successful workings of the Coordinated Campaign, and called it good.

But clearly, the Democratic Party will lose clout and credibility if it continues to hang out to dry motivated, dedicated candidates like me - particularly in those years when the issues dominate, and when candidates, like me, are right on the issues - as I was, on the war, on national health care, on energy independence, on the trashing of our Constitution.

People who heard my message responded positively. But, despite the heart-warming support of real people in Maine, the hundreds of people who sent small contributions ranging from $5 to $100, the dozens of people, several in this room, who stretched their own tight budgets to send some money my way, and despite the efforts of hundreds of enthusiastic volunteers and supporters, in the aggregate I did not have the financial resources to counter the misconceptions about Olympia Snowe's voting record.

We had only seventeen contributors who donated $1,000 or more, for a total of $32,450. That included $1,000 each from Congressmen Mike Michaud and Tom Allen, and the Maine Democratic Party on behalf of the Democratic Women's League. Four of those contributions came from out of state, including $5,000 from ImpeachPAC and two contributions totaling $4,200 from a person I did not know, but who found me on the web and decided to support "a candidate who was running in the spirit of Gene McCarthy and George McGovern." I liked his comment as much as I liked the money. But that was it for the big money.

And there were little things too that were so very frustrating. We had six hard-hitting TV ads, on the war, on health care, prescription drugs, choice, alternative energy. Olympia Snowe had two or three feel-good ads that did not mention the war, or the fact that she was a Republican. In fact they claimed she was an Independent Voice.

We were waiting for the Portland Press Herald to do its traditional Ad Watch reports on our ads, to spread the word that we were in fact on TV and what we were saying, and to report on Snowe’s ads, pointing out the inaccuracies, the tone, the message. Didn’t happen. Why? Supposedly the PPH staff was too focused on the five-way governor’s race. But I suspect it was because they realized Snowe’s ads would not hold up to scrutiny, and ours would. But there was not a thing we could do about that. Freedom of the press. Not surprisingly, the PPH endorsed Snowe.

According to exit polls, 91 percent of the pro-war folks voted for Snowe. But so did two-thirds of the people who self-identified as being anti-war. I was the anti-war candidate. If I had gotten those two-thirds instead of Snowe, I would have won the election.

Three-quarters of the women voters, of all political stripes, voted for Snowe, despite her votes for Judge Alito and several anti-choice judges. And 56 percent of the Democrats voted for Snowe.

My largest voting block was the anti-Bush crowd, 49 percent of whom voted for me to show opposition to the Bush administration. Forty-one percent of those folks voted for Snowe.

We've already begun to see the fall-out, the collateral damage from the lack of DSCC and traditional deep-pocket support, with the reelection of Olympia Snowe to six more years in the U.S. Senate.

If I were there instead of Olympia Snowe, we would not be in the position of relying on Independent Joe Lieberman's good will to maintain our tenuous Democratic Party majority position in the U.S. Senate. We have 49 Democrats and one Socialist, Bernie Sanders from Vermont. If Sen. Lieberman decides to vote with the Republicans, or to become a Republican, that puts Dick Cheney in charge of the U.S. Senate, casting any tie-breaking votes.

That situation alone shows the short-sightedness, and destructiveness, of the DSCC's narrow focus on only so-called "winnable" races.

Last week, Snowe's was the deciding vote to elevate her good friend Trent Lott back into Republican leadership.

And last Thursday, Snowe and Collins both voted against a Feingold amendment that would "require as a precondition to United States-India peaceful atomic energy cooperation determinations by the President that United States nuclear cooperation with India does nothing to assist, encourage, or induce India to manufacture or acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices." Both Snowe and Collins voted against that amendment - as did 69 other Senators, at least 16 of them non-Republicans. The final vote was 25-71. [Note: The day this speech was delivered India test-fired a medium-range nuclear-capable missile.]

I issue a caution here - If each Democratic candidate for federal office must start at ground zero, with lists, with people, with money, with campaign organization, if a Democratic candidate for federal office cannot expect even a modicum of support from the national Democratic party, then the reasons for running as a Democrat become less and less compelling.

Can the Democratic Party take that risk? Particularly, when here in Maine we've seen our paper ballot lines for races at all levels more and more populated with true independents, former Democrats running as independents, and an ever-increasing number of Green Party candidates, can the Maine Democratic Party take that risk?

I don't think it can.

James Carville has been publicly berating Howard Dean over his 50-state strategy, complaining that more money should have been spent on candidates this year, not on party organizing. As I just explained, that criticism is misplaced, and should be directed at the DSCC and the DCCC, which crowed about how much money they had raised, more than their Republican counterparts.

James Carville is attacking Dean because he wants all the money in the Democratic world to go into the 2008 Presidential race. That is shortsighted in the least, and if Carville is successful, it will hurt Maine's Democratic Party operation on the ground at a time when we should be expanding that ground operation.

We're going to be looking in 2008, a presidential election year, at a race against Sen. Susan Collins. When Chellie Pingree ran against her in 2002, Collins was considered a weak target, but she now is considered almost as invincible as Snowe in public perception. That will be a difficult race, for Tom Allen or whoever chooses to run against her. It won't be me.

In addition, in 2008, if Rep. Allen does go for Collins' seat, we will see a vigorous and well-populated primary in the First District for his open Congressional seat. Both of those factors mean that we will be needing lots of money, to keep the First District seat Democratic and to take a solid Republican U.S. Senate seat.

And we still have only a one-vote margin in the State Senate. If we lose that one-vote margin in 2008, Gov. Baldacci's last two years in the Blaine House will be difficult because he won't be able to get anything done.

So we must learn the lessons from my race to go forward successfully in 2008. Here are a few suggestions:
  1. The Democratic Party must start now to be as visible and vocal about the votes of our two Republican U.S. Senators. Every nasty vote must be pointed out, proactively by the party hierarchy, in press releases, on the party's web site, on radio talk shows, through radio ads when appropriate (Air America rates are cheap), and through coordinated letters to the editor. This must start now. It should not be left to the Democratic challenger to start this process a few months before the election.

  2. The Maine Democratic Party's DNC delegation should insist on across-the-board DSCC and DCCC involvement in all federal races.

  3. Because of the complications of Maine's Clean Election Fund that I encountered in fundraising, the Maine Democratic Party must be prepared to take up any slack from the national party in federal races. It must be prepared to provide that baseline of support for its federal nominees. It is in the Democratic Party's best interest to make the candidates beholden to the party.

  4. The Democratic Party must stop feeding off its candidates. Free admission to all Democratic events. Free booth space at the convention. Free ads in the programs for major events like the Jefferson-Jackson dinner. It is in the Democratic Party's interest to showcase its candidates. It should not cost candidates money to participate in party functions.

  5. Finally, remember always that we are the Party that cares - about people, about opportunity, about fairness. That our party is the one with the vision for America that focuses on truth, justice and the American way. In today's political climate, we must not sacrifice our principles on the new Republican altar of "bipartisanship." We must not compromise on issues like torture, pre-emptive war, habeas corpus, warrant-less wiretapping. We must hold firm to the American ideals that have made this country great, and to the ideals that will make it great again, if we can find them in the Republican rubble.
I'll stop there. Thank you all for your tremendous support. You have made this campaign an incredible experience, and I will remember you for it always.