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State Senate Campaign Starts Early in This Election Cycle

Mal Leary reports on the early start some candidates are getting in the state senate elections in Maine.

In some of the races for the Maine Legislature, candidates were just finalized last month. But both major parties are ramping up for the battle over control of the State Senate. Democrats have launched a social media campaign targeting four senate seats and the republicans are expected to be quick to follow.

The democrats have targeted four Republicans in this opening round, including Senate President Mike Thibodeau who represents Waldo County.

A Democratic video ad attacks Thibodeau: “Senator Thibodeau, what have you done for us? You had a chance to cut property taxes for seniors and you didn’t.”

The video ads, so far just appearing on social media also focus on senate races in Aroostook and Somerset counties and the Waterville area. Democratic party Chairman Phil Bartlett says it is part of an extensive campaign effort to target voters in senate districts where both parties believe the seats are in play this November.

“I think the record of the republican incumbents are particularly troubling,” Bartlett says. “And it gave us an opportunity I think to highlight the clear difference of values of what the democratic candidates in those districts stand for.”

Bartlett says to expect more campaigns on social media and later, in broadcast, print and direct mail ads, as both parties fight for control of the 35 member senate, which for the past two years has been in Republican hands. Democrats had control during the two previous years. Jason Savage, Executive Director of the Maine Republican Party says that once again, control will likely be determined by a few voters in a few districts. He says Republicans will also target several races but in a different way.

“Well, the one thing I would say that is going to be different is that we won’t be as deceptive in the ads when we talk about these issues that are important to voters that we see in these democrat ads,” says Savage.

He takes issue with some of the votes that Democrats choose to criticize in their ads, saying they distort the record of the Republican candidates. Sen. Andre Cushing, a republican from Newport and the assistant majority leader, says the senate could go either way in what he calls the most unique election in his lifetime.

“The dynamics of what will bring people to the polls, let alone, the referendum issues here in Maine that will bring people to the polls will change some of the dynamics of certain districts and how they come out,” Cushiong says.

Sen. Dawn Hill, a democrat from Cape Neddick and the assistant minority leader, says the top of the ticket candidates will affect turnout, as will all of the referenda questions on the fall ballot. She says no single issue seems to be the biggest draw, at least in her district where she has been knocking on doors and talking with voters.

“It’s across the gamut, no one seems to be, at least in my district which is a very southern district, no one is speaking about one issue that I feel is rising to the top, everybody seems to have something different, it’s a real mix, and much of it is personal,” says Hill.

Both Hill and Cushing are seeking re-election in the fall and hope they will be in the majority when the new legislature organizes in December. On policy they rarely align, but they both agree that control of the Maine State Senate this election is a toss-up.

Copyright 2016 Maine Public

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.

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