That Mike Michaud is gay is not especially shocking news in Maine political circles. The sexual orientation of the Blaine House aspirant has been the subject of gossip and rumor over much of his 33-years in elected office.
Nevertheless the congressman’s announcement was big news and will have a big impact on the race for governor, but not in ways you are likely to expect.
On a personal level it is not my place nor anyone else’s to question why Michaud, who would turn 60 shortly after giving his inaugural address, has not shared his orientation before now. It is a deeply personal matter that does not have an impact on his capacity to serve his constituents nor diminish his record of accomplishment.
I found Michaud’s column to be graceful and honest. I also was moved by his accounts of sharing his orientation with his mother and sister only hours before his pronouncement was published in newspapers across the state.
I sincerely hope Michaud gets the acceptance and support anyone would deserve when being honest and open about who they are with the ones they love.
Politically, Michaud’s reasons for maintaining his silence are, while unfortunate, more easily understood.
Michaud is a Catholic from a rural-Maine industrial town. First elected to public office in 1980, he is a proud Franco-American, who, along with his father and grandfather, has clocked 112 years in Katahdin-area paper mills. The congressman got his start as a legislator at a time and in a place that we were not nearly as accepting of different sexual orientations.
Great and welcome strides have been made across Maine in terms of gay acceptance and rights. That a candidate for statewide office can reveal his sexual orientation is a testament to that progress.
That Michaud needed to disclose his orientation is more about coalition building and early campaign maneuvering than it is about heading off the threat of general election political attacks.
Michaud, a Democrat, and independent candidate Eliot Cutler are engaged in a primary-like campaign to be the most viable alternative to Maine Gov. Paul LePage. For one of the challengers to succeed on the ballot next November, he must first best the other in the anybody-but-LePage pageant.
Those whispering the loudest about Michaud’s orientation were not social conservatives from the religious right — those voters were never going to be with Michaud on the ballot. The far bigger concern for Michaud is maintaining an alliance with those who have fought the hardest to secure acceptance and marriage rights for gays in Maine.
Many would rightfully question why Michaud would be deserving of their support for his own campaign while maintaining an uncomfortable secrecy about his own sexual orientation. Overcoming these questions is vital in southern Maine, a part of the state where Michaud is less well known and support for gay acceptance is the strongest.
I do not think many from the left expect or even want Michaud to campaign as a gay-rights champion. There are far more pressing issues of concern to the broader electorate. But we are now at a time when being open and honest about one’s own orientation is the acceptable and expected course of action.
And I am glad about that.
Michaud’s campaign has suggested that the whisper campaign about his sexual orientation has included the use of push polling. Push polls are not used to gauge public opinion but rather to plant salacious material with targeted segments of the electorate without taking responsibility for the content. Push polling is unethical everywhere, and illegal in Maine.
While I have no direct knowledge about the campaign tactics being used by the candidates and organizations interested in having an impact on Maine’s 2014 race for governor, I am certain no one is push polling Michaud’s sexual orientation.
For push polling to be effective it has be done very late in a campaign and calls must be made to large numbers of voters. No one with the resources and sophistication to engage in this activity would waste the money and take the risk of breaking the law a year from the election.
I would not be surprised, however, if a campaign or organization was polling the issue of Michaud’s sexual orientation with Maine voters to better understand the electorate’s potential reaction to the revelation. There is, at least in my book, a big difference between asking a question in a poll and actually using the information to launch a political attack.
Based on how fast Michaud’s announcement has become old news, I would conclude that general election political attacks about his sexual orientation would be largely ineffective. And that is very good news!
Dan Demeritt is a Republican political consultant and public relations specialist. He is a former campaign aide and communications director for Gov. Paul LePage. He can be contacted at: [email protected] Twitter: @demerittda