Opinion

Moodymentum carries businessman to easy Republican primary victory

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After all that, it turns out the Republicans don’t need to worry about the foolishness of ranked-choice voting after all.

The reason for that, of course, is that Shawn Moody became the Republican nominee for governor on Tuesday night by absolutely wiping out his opponents.

And that is no small accomplishment this year, because Moody had some very difficult competition.

Garrett Mason, who ended up finishing second, assembled what I would consider one of the most impressive grass-roots campaigns I have seen in a very, very long time. Friends of mine from The County down to the New Hampshire border told me that he or members of his team had visited their door two or three times.

Mason was also a young, fresh face. He was charismatic, personable and extremely intelligent. He has an incredible grasp of policy, and he really shined in the forums and debates. There is no question that you have not heard the last from him, and I look forward to seeing what is next for Mason.

Mary Mayhew may have come in third, but in many ways she was the biggest threat to Moody. Of the candidates running, she was the most easily identifiable heir to the LePage legacy, having been so central to the fight to reform welfare and get control over Maine’s most dysfunctional government department, the Department of Health and Human Services.

She had more than six years of proving the steel in her spine, fighting without apology for necessary — and sometimes unpopular — reforms. That iron will, and those conservative instincts, counted for a lot with conservative primary voters.

And Ken Fredette never had the money to truly compete for the nomination, but he had a rare combination of intelligence and political savvy, and he also had the fighter mentality that so many voters in the Republican party want. He also was on the frontlines fighting for LePage’s agenda in the Legislature, and he won a lot of friends and admirers because of that.

In the end, though, Moody crushed them all.

I have been predicting that Moody would win in the first round since November 2017, and I have never wavered from that belief. I did, however, waffle back and forth as to whether I thought he would win outright, or if he could narrowly lose in the ranked-choice system.

My final prediction, the morning of the primary was that he would end up winning, and that I could see him winning big. But I did, in complete honesty, think it would be pretty close, and that he could potentially lose.

In the end, Mayhew’s support was never there, and Moody ran away with it.

Which leaves us with the simple question, “why?”

In November 2014, I wrote a column in these pages attempting to explain how Maine’s pugnacious and controversial governor, Paul LePage, was able to win re-election. My ultimate perspective was this:

“Paul LePage won because he reminds most of us of somebody we know and love. For me, the governor reminds me a great deal of my father, who passed away earlier this year. Boisterous. Loud. Uncompromising. Indelicate. Loves a good fight. Hard working. Real. Raw. Very French. He is everyone’s father, uncle, cousin or neighbor. He is as quintessentially Maine as it gets … ”

In short, the reason LePage won is the same reason that Moody won the primary. Identity.
We, as a general rule, don’t vote for the people who most match our ideology, or who have the most signs or the slickest ads. Voting is an emotional act, and we translate our own experiences and affinities into that act.

Ultimately, we vote for people we identify with. Looks like me. Sounds like me. Shares my values and perspective. Has the attitude I want. Cares about the things I care about. And maybe more important than anything else, we vote for candidates we think understand us.

Republican primary voters identified with Moody, more than any candidate running. He felt like one of us. Not just politically, but culturally. His thick Maine accent screamed authenticity. His casual demeanor made him easy to relate to. His blue collar sensibilities showed us he gets what our lives look like. His work ethic and life story show he shares our values.

In retrospect, it should have been obvious that he would walk away with it. And it should be equally obvious to his soon to be general election opponents that he is very likely to dash their dreams of the Blaine House.

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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