Opinion

Gun stunt shows desperation in GOP primary for Congress

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There’s a real race going on in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District where Republicans will pick their nominee to face U.S. Rep. Jared Golden next year.

Failed U.S. Senate candidate and former state Sen. Eric Brakey was the first candidate to announce his intention to run. For months, he had the field to himself and managed to raise almost $338,000 in the fundraising period between July 1 and Sept. 30.

Despite his best efforts to paint himself as a Trump-supporting, Libertarian-leaning gun defender, much of the Republican establishment has been in a panic trying to find a better candidate to take on the Democratic incumbent.

During his challenge to independent U.S. Sen. Angus King in 2018, Brakey failed to break through with funders, the media or voters. He raised less than $1 million and finished with 35 percent of the vote in a three-way race that also included Democrat Zak Ringelstein. King was re-elected handily.

Brakey’s head start didn’t keep two more name brand Republicans from jumping into the primary race: former state Rep. Dale Crafts and Adrienne Bennett, a former TV reporter and press secretary for Gov. Paul LePage.

Crafts looks a lot like the 2nd District. He’s 60 years old, white and a small-business owner. Bennett is 40 and, despite serving for many years in the LePage administration, is attempting to position herself as an “outsider.”

Despite her difficult work on his behalf, LePage was quick to throw his support to Crafts, who had been an early backer when he ran for governor. That history aside, it’s hard not to see the endorsement as a snub to Bennett, who had perhaps the toughest job in Maine politics.

For disclosure’s sake, I support Golden. I’ve contributed to his campaign and will again. And while I think he’ll have to work hard and run a smart campaign to win his first re-election bid, he’s going into the race favored to win.

As to the GOP primary, Brakey is fading and he likely knows it. Last week, he tried a stunt to get attention and to own the libs, as the phrase goes. He’s going to raffle off an assault-style weapon to one lucky donor.

The gimmick worked. He got in the news and even earned some attention — albeit negative — from a cutting editorial in the Portland Press Herald, which called the ploy unoriginal, not funny and immature.

All three candidates are vying to see who can be the most gun-loving, NRA-supporting of the bunch. None, so far as I can see, are trying to position themselves as a moderate in the race.
Instead of boosting him, the Brakey raffle is more likely an indication that he can see the writing on the wall and feels the momentum moving away from his campaign.

Based on how he finished his ill-fated Senate campaign, with a wave of anti-immigrant statements, I expect his campaign to get harsher and more desperate.

I can’t read the minds of Republican voters, but I would think that Crafts — riding the LePage endorsement and his experience in the Legislature — is likely the frontrunner for the GOP nomination.

He’s the safe choice. Consistently conservative — to a fault, in my mind — and a demographic match for the district.

Bennett is the less conventional choice, but she also has the greater upside. Whether GOP primary voters can recognize it or be willing to vote for a woman as their party has become more and more dominated by white men is another question.

There are only 13 Republican women in Congress, a 25-year low, according to USA Today.
Republicans will decide their nominee during a June primary, and if they choose, they can rank their choices on the ballot.

Brakey got in early and he’s sitting on some cash, but he’s going to have to do something less stupid than raffling off a gun if he wants to distinguish himself and win the race.

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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