Shenna Bellows, The Future of Maine Politics?

As election year heats up MassPoliticsProfs wants to bring insight into what is going on in other New England states and fortunately our colleagues at colleges throughout the region are the best possible resource. Today we are pleased to welcome a guest post on Maine politics from our friend Prof. Karl Trautman. He is the chairperson of the Social Science Department and an instructor of political science at Central Maine Community College. He does a weekly podcast at karltrautman.com/ Prof. Trautman’s latest book is The Underdog in American Politics: The Democratic Party and Liberal Values.

In her bones, she probably knows she will not win. She is a highly intelligent woman. But Shenna Bellows, the Democrat who is trying to deny Republican Susan Collins a fourth term in the US Senate, is doing something refreshing. She is strengthening the Maine Democratic Party at its roots by running an energetic and creative campaign. An example of Bellows’ energy and creativity is her recent decision to walk 350 miles across the Pine Tree State. She starts in Aroostook County in the town of Houlton on July 20th. She ends up in Kittery, in York County on August 12th. The tour is called the Walk With ME for Jobs and the Economy. It obviously takes a lot of physical energy to do this. Her creativity is not in inventing something new; after all, in 1972 Republican Bill Cohen walked across Maine’s 2nd Congressional District en route to his eventual victory. Instead, it is in seeing the symbolic importance of such an act and bringing it back to political life.

Bellows hopes that the threat to civil liberties unleashed by the response to 9/11 strikes a chord in the Maine electorate. As the head of the Maine ACLU for eight years, this may not come as a surprise. What is surprising is her public praise of Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul’s views on civil liberties. She feels so strongly on this issue that she has come out publically against President Obama’s policies on spying by the NSA.  She said this earlier in the year: “I’m running for United States Senate to stand up against the Washington pattern of sacrificing our liberties for a false sense of security… We need to stop dragnet surveillance and restore our constitutional freedoms to protect individual liberties and restore trust in our government again.”

Still, we need to explore why she probably won’t win. Susan Collins, that’s why. Susan is a powerhouse in Maine politics. After her initial election in 1996, she has won each re-election with an increased percentage of the vote. In 1996, she got 49 percent in a four way race. In 2002, she got 58 percent. In 2008, she vanquished Democrat Tom Allen, garnering over 61 percent. She is in great shape for re-election this year. A Rasmussen poll in April found her, among likely voters, 36 points up on Bellows; 60 to 24 percent. Moreover, 64 percent of non-Republicans and non-Democrats supported her, and 39 percent of Democrats supported Collins. Collins is perceived by many as a moderate and has even managed to get the endorsements of labor. At least some, labor. In April, unions of independent guards, draftsmen and machinists at Bath Iron Works, known as BIW, endorsed her re-election. As a member of the subcommittee for Defense appropriations, workers at BIW and her have a mutually beneficial relationship,

Perhaps Sheena Bellows sees the day, in the not so distant future, when either Susan Collins or Angus King retires. After all, Bellows is 39 while Collins is 61 and King is 70. A path to a Senate seat would be less difficult then. Or, if Mike Michaud loses this year, maybe a run for the Blaine House in 2018? She would be all of 43 by then. Her youth, creativity and energy are great counterforces to the pull of resigned political cynicism. Political parties need more candidates like her to earn the support of voters.

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