A Top Priority Senate Seat
With the retirement of Karl Turner in District 11, what has previously been a solid Republican seat may have become much more competitive, and political observers from across the ideological spectrum are interested in the race.
Jesse Graham, executive director of the progressive Maine People's Alliance identified it as one of the races he's watching most closely.
"This has been a Republican seat in recent past but could be close by the numbers and is open. The Dems have put up a good candidate for the area in Jeanne Hulit. She seems to be more moderate but that is likely what it will take to win the district and she got the endorsement of MPA Campaign Vote."
Tony Payne at the conservative Alliance for Maine's Future had some similar thoughts:
"This is a top-priority senate seat for both parties. The bulk of the district has been in the hands of Karl Turner and the late Joel Abromson, moderate Republicans. Following redistricting, Yarmouth was added and a piece of Portland shed possibly making the district even more homogeneous for Republicans. Davis is a former high school teacher and four-term state rep from Falmouth who is pro-life but supports hand gun control; he votes to support business but is a retired teacher. Most important of all, he works harder than most any candidate in the state going door-to-door. He knows his district. The Democrats have recruited a very bright and attractive banker in Jeanne Hulit. She has solid credentials in both her business career as well as her civic involvement. The seat leans Republican."
When I asked Gerald Davis his opinion of why so many observers think this previously Republican district might flip, he cited the Obama phenomenon.
"Obama has a lot of people interested. They're hurting economically and they look at Obama as someone who can help them," he explained.
Davis says he's believes, however, that Obama's popularity at the top of the ticket won't significantly effect his race. He's confident about his chances, and if he loses he's determined it won't be because of a lack of effort. He's been campaigning for the seat since 2007 and says he worked right through the winter knocking on doors.
Davis served as a state Representative from 1998 to 2006 and says his main legislative accomplishments include a domestic violence bill he co-sponsored, a bill he wrote to dedicate a section of local highway for a group of World War II veterans, and the property tax reductions and homestead exemptions passed by the legislature.
"My name might not be on that bill, but I contributed to it," said Davis.
If elected to the senate, Davis wants to focus on securing state help for Maine citizens who are hurting due to the price of home heating oil and gasoline. He also hopes to promote more fiscal restraint and to push for legislative committees to engage in more direct supervision of the state departments they oversee.
"I'm a Roman Catholic, I plead guilty to that," said Davis when asked about his conservative social views. "I'm not a right winger though, I believe in a reasoned dialogue."
Davis says he's a good fit to carry on the work of Karl Turner, and notes that he knew the former senator well and that they coached little league together.
Davis is not running as a clean elections candidate for ideological reasons, believing state money could be better used in other areas, but he plans to raise enough money to match his opponent's MCEA disbursement.
Davis plans to keep working hard through to election day, and says his door-knocking is connecting him with many former students who he taught during his career at Portland High School and who now live in District 11.
While she may not have been seeking the seat for as long as Davis, Jeanne Hulit hasn't exactly been slacking off. She's been knocking on doors since April and believes the race will be very competitive.
Hulit is proud of her career as a commercial lender and her efforts to promote Maine's economic development. She helped found the Maine international trade center, and has also served as chair of the board of visitors at the University of Southern Maine. She believes that greater investment in higher education is key to the state's economic development.
"A large part of the problem in the state of Maine is our low income levels," said Hulit. "The way we grow our economy and our income levels is to have a skilled workforce."
If she wins in November, one of her first priorities will be tax reform, and she would support a plan to broaden the sales tax in order to reduce income taxes.
"I got involved in running for senate after working against TABOR, and I've heard many serious concerns about the tax rate," said Hulit.
Hulit says she believes the state can create a more "streamlined and efficient" government structure without damaging the state's social programs.
When asked about her opponent, Hulit was quick to draw some contrasts.
"I want people to know his positions on choice and equal rights," said Hulit. "He's much more socially conservative than I am, and the district is much more socially moderate than he is."
She also sought to identify with the district's last Senator.
"Karl Turner's record and positions are often closer to mine, more so than Jerry Davis," said Hulit.
Hulit praised her campaign volunteers, saying she's excited hat so many young people have chosen to get involved, and says she's thoroughly enjoying the campaign.
"This is my first run for public office, and it's an honor to seek to represent the residents of the state of Maine," said Hulit. "It's a chance to give back to the state and this community."
Previous elections have shown this district to be solid Republican territory, and Davis has to be considered to have an advantage. With an open seat and two strong candidates, however, anything can happen.