Opinion

Ignore the money and polls in Maine’s 2018 governor’s race

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It can be tempting. I know.

Like a siren’s song, the allure of fundraising totals and polling results is irresistible to the media. It never fails, no matter how pointlessly irrelevant it is, they will spend an unconscionable amount of time and energy “breaking down” the gubernatorial race, and analyzing who is up and who is down based on those two metrics.

How much are they raising? What are they polling at?

Of course, this isn’t necessarily the media’s fault. They dutifully print any poll, no matter how questionable, dubious or obviously self-serving, but they really only do that because we mindlessly consume that content like a starving orphan desperately spooning gruel.

This week, we were treated to our first gubernatorial fundraising numbers, and no sooner had they been released than the ridiculous coverage began, and we slurped it all up.

The Bangor Daily News had the most intellectually honest headline, stating simply that Democrat Adam Cote and Republican Mary Mayhew had posted “strong fundraising totals.” Of course, they also took the time to create a special bar graph (complete with blue and red blocks with the candidates faces on them) to helpfully show visually that $265,000 is in fact a larger sum than $90,000. Michael Shepherd also combed through the report to provide a who’s who list of who donated, and analyze how the “per day total” raised compared for each.

Both the Portland Press Herald, and television station WCSH, on the other hand, laughably characterized the numbers as showing that Cote and Mayhew had “taken an early lead” in fundraising. Cote was the only Democrat in the race at the time requiring a report and Mayhew, a Republican, also had no one to compete against.

So, two candidates, the only ones who really raised money in their respective primaries, are leading the fundraising “race” in each party. You don’t say.

A never-ending parade of media personalities and talking heads will “break down” financial reports and polling numbers and tell you how very meaningful they are, and how much they tell you about who is winning and who is losing. But you should ignore them all.

Soon, each party will have between five to eight candidates each, most of whom will privately finance. Each of those campaigns will conduct internal polling, which will “leak” to the media, and will be joined by public polling conducted by a handful of polling outfits, both state and national.

This will create a lot of noise. And the attraction to that noise will be incredible, and compelling. You will want to read it all. You will want to analyze it all. You will want to believe you know what is happening because this candidate raised more than that candidate, or that candidate is polling higher than that candidate.

Stop consuming this schlock. It tells you very little, and holds very little value.

In 2010, the Republicans had seven candidates running for governor. According to their 42-day post primary filings, candidate Les Otten raised $2,760,783.13, Bruce Poliquin raised $753,853.25, Peter Mills — the only clean election candidate in the race — collected $644,381.24 in clean election funds and seed money, Paul LePage raised (if you count the $181,000 in loans he gave himself) $536,898.25, Steve Abbott raised $477,449.09, Bill Beardsley raised $315,227.00, and Matt Jacobson raised $172,553.28.

Throughout the campaign, though, reporters and talking heads obsessed over how much money these candidates were raising.

Otten dominated the race by self-funding.

Abbott had “momentum” because he posted a big number in his first report.

Poliquin was “obviously a player” in that race because he was raising significant sums.
Mills, with access to clean election money, could focus on his campaign and his message and put together a strong campaign, because he wasn’t busy raising money.

LePage, who had trouble raising money and finished third-from-last in the money race before he loaned himself money, was obviously going to have trouble breaking through the noise.

LePage ran away with the primary, Otten couldn’t get more than 17 percent, Abbott finished fourth and Poliquin sixth.

No different on the polling front, where polls consistently showed either Otten or Mills leading the race, and LePage hovering around 10 percent.

The point is, while excruciating pains are taken to tell us how important these metrics are in politics, they rarely tell you much of anything. So stop obsessing over them, and buckle up for one hell of a campaign. Trust me, ignoring money and polling will not make it any less interesting.

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.

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