A long, messy, healthy list of Democratic prospects for governor in 2018

Lance Dutson: In our last column, we broke down the 2018 GOP and independent gubernatorial hopefuls. Now it’s time for the Democrats.

Steven Biel: The list of potential candidates is long and messy — but I actually think that’s healthy. Whenever Democrats try to clear the field for a consensus front-runner, it backfires. Voters like to see politicians work for a job.

Lance: Maine Dems have a serious lack of strong statewide candidates. But let’s try to find a few. Attorney General Janet Mills appears to be a serious possibility. She’s from rural Maine, has name ID, and a great resume. But I’m not sure an experienced, substantive politician is what voters want in today’s populist political climate.

Steven: If you had to pick a front-runner right now, it’s probably the attorney general. She’s part of what I call the “LePage-era Democrat” category, which also includes Mark Eves and Justin Alfond. All of them will have to overcome their association with the fights of the LePage era, because in 2018 voters will want to turn the page.

Lance: Then looking toward the private sector isn’t a bad idea, and two names out there are Adam Cote and Adam Lee. Cote served in the Army in three war zones. He’s run an energy business and has signed both sides of a paycheck. And by all accounts he’s a sharp and likable guy. Lee is the scion of his father’s car dealership business and, like his father, has been a benefactor of Democratic causes for a long time. Lots of potential, but politics is a skill set that neither of these guys appears to have. Cote lost a primary for Congress to Chellie Pingree in 2008, and Lee has never run for anything.

Steven: There’s a lot of interest among Democratic activists in not having another Augusta politician run. Cote in particular has a great biography, but he will have to assure primary voters that he’s actually a Democrat who supports our core values, which is the attack that cost him in 2008.

You mentioned Chellie Pingree, and I’ve heard rumors that she’s looking into the 2018 governor’s race. But we’ve heard that rumor before.

Lance: What about Troy Jackson? He fits two categories — he’s an establishment outsider, but he’s also got enough political experience to potentially make a serious run. What Sen. Jackson lacks in polish he more than makes up for in populist appeal, so don’t be surprised to see some real activist enthusiasm about him.

Steven: Authenticity is the most valuable commodity in politics today, and Troy’s got it. But to win the primary, he’ll have to do a better job explaining some bad votes he’s taken on the environment, abortion rights, and marriage equality. He can’t get defensive in the face of fair, issue-based criticism as he has in the past.

Lance: That’s a pretty diverse list of names, anyone else out there on the fringes that may surprise us?

Steven: I’m hearing some noise about Lucas St. Clair, who led the fight for the North Woods national monument and is well known in the Second District.

Lance: Talk about Dem suicide. PLEASE run Roxanne Quimby’s son statewide. The GOP will send you a gift basket.

Steven: Aside from that, always keep an eye on former Maine House Speaker Hannah Pingree. There would be a large base of enthusiastic supporters behind her if she got in.

Lance: I think she will run, but probably not this time. If she got in she’d be a solid candidate.

Steven: It’s a long list, and no one stands out as a clear powerhouse, but eight years ago, no one thought much of Paul LePage either. I’m looking forward to seeing them all make their case and win it the old fashioned way: With votes.

Left Brain Right Brain

About Left Brain Right Brain

Lance Dutson, a principal of Red Hill Strategies, is a Republican communications consultant. He has served on the campaign teams of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte, as well as the Maine Republican Party. Steven Biel is a former campaign director for MoveOn.org and president of the Portland-based political consulting firm Steven Biel Strategies, which provides digital campaign support to organizations including NARAL Pro-Choice America, Courage Campaign, and Environment America.