Thursday, April 24, 2014
Mike Michaud's toughest race for U.S. Congress was his first.
Ten years ago, in 2002, the silver-haired Democrat out of Millinocket narrowly beat Republican Kevin Raye for an open seat in Maine's 2nd Congressional District. Now, Michaud and Raye are facing off for the second time, in what observers say could be the toughest race of Michaud's political career.
Raye's campaign contends Michaud is vulnerable this time around: Voter demographics in the 2nd District have shifted in Raye's favor during the past decade. That may be true, but observers say it's extremely difficult to unseat an incumbent congressman, especially one as popular as Michaud. Raye is a serious contender, they say, but it might not be enough. A recent poll has Raye trailing by 19 points.
"There's a lot to like about Raye as a candidate, and there's a lot to like about the conditions of this district for a Republican," said Mark Brewer, a political science professor for University of Maine. "I think it could be a tight race, but -- all things being equal -- incumbents have an advantage, and Michaud's got the advantage."
In this campaign, Raye has been touting the party affiliations of state senators in the 2nd Congressional District as evidence of a turning tide.
He may be on to something: 15 out of 19 state senators in the 2nd District are Republican.
During the last election, Republicans living in the 2nd District picked up four out of five open seats and unseated three Democratic incumbents, according to records from the secretary of state. Ten years ago, when Raye lost to Michaud by about four percentage points -- 9,019 more votes out of 224,717 cast -- state senators in the same area were evenly divided between the two parties.
Anthony Corrado, a political science professor at Colby College in Waterville, said the Republicans who scooped seven seats in 2010 were riding a populist wave that might not exist into this election cycle.
James Melcher, professor of political science at University of Maine at Farmington, agreed the majority might not indicate a sea change in the district.
"It indicates that 2010 was a really good year to be a Republican in Maine," he said.
According to voter rolls from the secretary of state, the composition of registered voters has shifted slightly toward Raye's favor since the first match.
As of June, Democrats still outnumbered Republicans by 4,800 in the district; however, Republicans picked up 426 voters, while Democrats lost more than 5,000. Unenrolled voters, or independents, lost more than 4,000. There are 165,804 unenrolled, 137,056 Democrats, 132,256 Republicans and 15,531 Green Independent voters.
Overall, voter registration is down in the district by 455 people, with the only significant growth in the Green Independent Party, which picked up more than 8,000 voters since 2002.
The biggest voting bloc in the 2nd District is still unenrolled voters. They outnumber registered Democrats by more than 28,000, which could make this anyone's race. However, they will likely go for Michaud, Melcher said.
"All things being equal, independents will tend to break toward an incumbent member of Congress unless they have a reason not to," he said. "It's just really hard to knock off an incumbent who hasn't had a scandal, and there's really no scandal there."
At the same time, Green Independents aren't necessarily a lock for the Democrat, Melcher said.
"Greens can be unpredictable," he said. "I would say a majority would vote for Michaud, but I think it would be a mistake to say every one is going to vote that way. Raye isn't the kind of Republican that's going to rub Greens the wrong way. He's not out denying global warming or primarily running from a socially conservative standpoint."
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