The Politics of a Crisis
Due to the worsening economic crisis, I've decided to suspend the series on state senate races and instead fly to Washington to help with the bailout… or maybe I'll just write about how the crisis has affected Maine's people and politics.
The first thing to note is that the mortgage crisis hasn't hit Maine as hard as it has other regions. As of July, Maine still had a a better foreclosure rate than 37 states. With one foreclosure for every 838 homes, we're faring much better than states like Nevada where it's one in 43. Governor Baldacci, in a recent interview, ascribed some of this difference to Maine's tougher lending regulations.
As the crisis has expanded beyond the housing sector, however, individual Mainers are worrying about their investments and retirement savings, and about being saddled with the cost of the federal bailout package. At the same time, the state government has its own, unique problems. For instance, what to do when you can no longer sell state bonds or lenders stop offering loans to Maine college students. Political leaders from the municipal to the federal level all have an opportunity and a responsibility to show leadership.
Which brings me back to the politics of the crisis.
The economy is now the number one issue on voters' minds. In the presidential race, that's translated to gains for Obama. In the US Senate race in Maine, owning this issue may be Tom Allen's last hope.
Senator Susan Collins is seen as a moderate on a variety of policy issues, and even a liberal on issues such as women's rights and the environment (although her critics would point to votes for anti-choice supreme court nominees and drilling in ANWR), but one thing she's never been is an economic populist.
Collins has supported almost every one of the Bush Administration's economic policies, cast the deciding vote for the Bush tax cuts in 2003, has voted for less regulation on lenders and has recieved a great deal of her campaign funding from banking and lending interests. She also voted to make it much harder for individuals who are drowning in debt to declare bankruptcy, even when they were victims of illness or identity fraud, while at the same time supporting bankruptcy protection for corporations. She was also the only member of the Maine delegation who didn't oppose President Bush's plan to put Social Security dollars on the stock market.
That's the case Tom Allen and the DSCC should be making.
Take a look at this ABC news report and pay close attention to the situation of the Grant family from Waterville, some of the many victims of predatory lending practices (practiced by Collins' top campaign donor). A clip of a struggling family like this one speaking to the camera about their economic fears, a narrator explaining that Collin's record on the issue, a quote on the screen from the Sun Journal calling Collins' vote on bankruptcy protection "nothing more than political patronage for the credit card industry", and you've got a very powerful TV ad on a very powerful issue.
Of course, even a strong, negative push on an strong issue like the economy might not be enough for Allen. Collins is way ahead in the polls and is working hard to make sure she's seen as being proactive on the bailout negotiations. What I described as an "uphill climb" a few weeks ago has now become a mountain as the election nears and time runs out for Allen.
Allen's own campaign style may also be limiting his ability to take a tough line on the economy. As one Republican strategist was quoted as saying in the Press Herald this morning, Allen is too much of a nice guy to go for the jugular. Instead, his campaign has been airing an ad claiming there are "big differences" between the candidates on major issues, and pointing voters to a website where they can find a table comparing Allen and Collins on the economy. The information is there, but the emotional component is completely absent.
In other Maine political news…
- M.D. Harmon finds some conservatives in Portland.
- Adam Cote is blogging at PolitickerME and is quick to mention that he was a college Democrat.
- Susan Collins gets 24,000 pink slips and writes an op-ed on energy.
- MPA is running a massive voter engagement drive.
- Summers, as others have attempted, is seeking to tie Chellie Pingree to monied interests, a difficult case to make against the former president of Common Cause.
- The Statehouse News Service has a new reporter.
- The House has voted to double LIHEAP aid.
- Plum Creek and LURC have reached an agreement.
- Dirigo Health turns five.
- The Christian Civic League gets a name change.
- Green Acres Kennel is holding their own election.
- The pro casino side has ads on TV, CasinosNo! has ads on youtube.
- MHPC does something useful, and gets called "despicable".