Last week, we found out what we have long expected about the governor’s race.

Incumbent Democrat Janet Mills will be facing her predecessor Republican Paul LePage in November. There will be no primary in either party, and, barring a stealth campaign by a well-financed independent, those will be the only two names on the ballot. Since “well-financed” and “stealth” are mutually exclusive concepts in politics, we have every reason to believe that this will be the case.

Given this news, sensible Press Herald reader Allison Stiles of South Portland pleaded with both campaigns last week to go easy on us. In her March 18 letter to the editor, Stiles points out that these candidates are “more than well-known” and asked them for a moratorium on negative TV ads and mailers until October.

“Maine doesn’t need that nonsense, and honestly, if you want to show me how fiscally responsible you are, please don’t send a bunch of overwrought tripe to my house.”

I couldn’t agree more, and I would go a step further: Do we really need any campaigns at all?

A political campaign is an organized effort to educate voters and motivate them to cast their ballots for a candidate. What do we need to learn about these two candidates that would help us make up our minds?


Paul LePage was governor for eight years. He wrote budgets, administered programs and put his stamp on state business by vetoing more bills than all of his predecessors combined.

We know what he’s about, and if you are new to the state, google “impregnate a white girl,” and you will get the idea.

Janet Mills has only been governor for four years, but has been a public figure for longer than that, serving as the state’s attorney general, a legislator and a district attorney in Central Maine.

She comes from the more conservative wing of the Democratic Party, and has angered progressives by vetoing some of their legislative priorities around labor rights and drug policy. But she has also expanded access to health care, including abortion, and kept Maine out of the outrage segments of the national news shows (except for the time Fox’s Tucker Carlson let a guest share her personal cell phone number to his huge national audience to punish her for enforcing health and safety codes in restaurant kitchens).

It’s not that there are no differences between these two candidates – the differences are huge. It’s just that we already know what they are and we’re not likely to learn more in the next eight months. Is anyone undecided? What are they waiting to hear to help them make up their minds?

This race would seem like an easy win for Mills. LePage won twice in three-way races in which he never got half the vote (although he came close in 2014). Mills got more than half the votes in her four-way race in 2018, and wouldn’t need to win anybody over to her side to do it again.


You don’t get to rerun elections, though. Political divisions run deep. This is going to be a close race in what’s expected to be a bad year for Democrats, which has to give Mills some heartburn. Middle-of-the-road Republicans will criticize LePage, but have still turned out to vote for him in the past. Progressives won’t vote for LePage, but they might be miffed enough not turn out for Mills, which is essentially the same thing.

But would the result be different if the election were held tomorrow instead of Nov. 8? Will the $10 million or so that’s going to be spent between now and then make any difference?

My guess is that it won’t. There is surprisingly little evidence that political campaigns change minds. Negative ads can brand a newcomer before a lot of voters get to know them, but these are not newcomers.

Most likely, we will see millions of dollars spent by campaigns and allied groups to desperately catch the ear of a tiny fraction of people who have not been paying attention. The most valuable thing they can accomplish is reminding people that there is an election coming up and they ought to vote.

If this were a parliamentary system, Mills could set an election date eight weeks away, and we would be done with this sometime in May. Instead, we are going to engage in an eight-month slugfest that, no matter who wins, will leave about half the state feeling that the government is in the hands of a monster.

We know these candidates as well as any we’ve ever seen on the ballot.

It’s too bad we can’t just get this over with.

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