Well, Janet Mills is winning.
Not necessarily the Blaine House. The limited polling shows a neck-and-neck race, while the lawn sign battle points to a clear Shawn Moody victory. But she is winning the money race.
Through this week’s campaign finance reports, the Maine attorney general and Democratic candidate for governor has raised over $1.8 million. Moody is in second, with $1.4 million, although nearly one-third of that is from his own investment. Democratic House leader turned independent State Treasurer Terry Hayes is third at $1.2 million, but 96 percent of that money has come from the state treasury through the Clean Elections program. Independent Alan Caron is last with a mostly self-financed total of $800,000.
Once you add in the outside spending reported thus far, Mills runs away as $2.1 million has been spent to bolster her position. Sixty percent of that was deployed to attack Moody. Moody has received about $500,000 in third-party support split about evenly between “pro-Moody” and “anti-Mills” efforts.
Put it all together and Mills is flirting with $4 million. Moody is at half that. And you know what? It won’t really matter.
The Beatles sang “money can’t buy me love,” and they were right. Money doesn’t buy the Blaine House — or any political office for that matter — either.
That seems a peculiar thing to say, especially when our television channels and roadsides are littered with campaign detritus. Add in the ongoing saga that has become the Supreme Court nomination — together with the absurd sums spent trying to sway public opinion about Brett Kavanaugh — and it feels like we have reached saturation.
In a way, it should remind us of the 1980s. Not the proclivities of high schoolers from that era, but rather the “mutually assured destruction” describing the security posture of U.S. and Soviet Union nuclear forces. The unfathomable destructive power of the two superpowers could have effectively ended the world several times over. Once you destroyed the world, you could probably do it again; it just wouldn’t have much of an effect.
Morbidly, that is what money is like in political campaigns. Once you have “enough” — however much that is — adding more is overkill. Spending is useful and necessary to get the name and perspective of a candidate out into the minds of the public. But at some point, all the electioneering in the world boils down to a simple question, asked of each voter individually: Which person should get the job?
That is where claims about “buying” elections break down. No matter how much money gets spent, it is hard to see a scenario where a Republican wins a State House seat in the center of Portland. All the dollars or dinars in the world will not see a U.S. Senate seat from Utah go to a Democrat in the near future.
Yet, unlike nuclear weapons, campaigns will just keep launching advertisements without second thought. Because, like nuclear weapons, they have an abundance of the resource enabling them to do so. Every candidate has more than enough money to make themselves known. Which is why Mills may be winning the money race, but remains far from measuring for new carpet in the Blaine House.
So, as we go into Fryeburg Fair week, enjoy all the jockeying and spin the campaigns will offer about the underlying meaning contained within their financing reports. Tolerate the fact that tens upon tens of thousands of dollars are being spent to put signs alongside our roads as we move into foliage season.
And buckle-up. Because the dash to the finish is just getting started, and we won’t know a winner until Nov. 7.