How to dethrone a King

Ethan: Now that the Republican and Democratic primaries are behind us and Charlie Summers and Cynthia Dill have become their party’s nominees against the mighty independent King Angus, I thought it would be interesting to put on our strategy hats and advise the campaigns on how they could beat him.

Phil: Well, I don’t know much about your state Sen. Dill, but Summers has got some real gravitas. This is a man with deep Maine roots, someone who serves his country with distinction, who understands what small businesses are going through and who was a distinguished leader in the state Senate. And did I mention that he’s also Maine’s current secretary of state?

Ethan: Dill is also distinguished – a small business owner who has served at both the local and state level and one who has always been an outspoken and passionate champion for the working people of Maine. From the start, Dill’s campaign was the only one with energy. But you know as well as I do that it isn’t enough for our candidates to be qualified for the job. They will need much more to beat a man who started the race with a 20-point lead, a quarter million in the bank and unlimited personal resources.

Phil: Fair enough. So, what do you think our candidates have to do to win?

Ethan: Thanks for asking! Since King seems so reluctant to define his values and so far is running solely on his personality, the slogan for the campaign against him has to be, “Who is the real Angus King?” I read a great quote in a recent blogin which the author bemoans the fact that King won’t tell us what he stands for: “If you make a purchase from a hardware store where the owner won’t tell you whether you’re getting a wrench, pliers, or a hammer, then you’re the tool. Also, if you elect a Senator who has no principles … you’re likely to get what you deserve.”

Phil: Defining King won’t be hard. After the “independent” won the Blaine House, he governed for eight years as a liberal. When you look at the growth in public sector debt, expansion of Medicaid and refusal to lower the income tax you certainly don’t see a conservative. Money poured into the tax bureau at unexpected velocity, and his response was to spend it all and borrow the rest.

Ethan: Not sure you can call a guy liberal if he vetoes a minimum wage increase, vetoes family and medical leave, vetoes Meals on Wheels for our elderly and blocks funding for children’s health insurance. Not to mention King’s opposition to medical marijuana and his fight against the initiative to prevent clearcutting. But that is my point. Who is the real Angus King? What are the real principles of a man who supports George W. Bush in 2000 and then Barack Obama in 2012?

Phil: King’s problem is that he doesn’t appear to have a true north. Your issues focus on people getting more out of government. Mine stem from the long-term impact of growing government.

Ethan: Although independents don’t like partisanship, they also don’t like people who make decisions based on the direction of the wind. Dill and Summers will need to show how King is starting to come across in this campaign as exactly this kind of politician.

Phil: Kind of like King pretending he won’t decide who to caucus with until after the election? Doesn’t supporting Obama for re-election tell you all you need to know? Political gamesmanship at its worst.

Ethan: And, if Dill wants to solidify the Democratic base, all she has to do is get King to whisper that he might put Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in power so he can further block health care, tax reform and job stimulus.

Phil: I think the longer he holds out from saying which party he will elect to lead the Senate, the more voters will drift from him. Voters really dislike candidates who don’t seem to have the courage of their convictions.

Ethan: Dill needs to demand that we hear less about the process from King and more about the product. At his first press conference after the primary, where you might expect him to announce some major policy initiative on health care, the economy or job creation, he gave us none of the above. Once again it was about process and trying to get his opponents to swear off super PACs that might attack him, without a single legislative solution to the problem of money in politics. To her credit, Dill came back and said she’d support the DISCLOSE Act and challenged King to do the same. Of course, he was silent.

Phil: From my perspective, Summers has to push him to define how he will fix our long-term economic health. If he can’t communicate clearly what he is going to do to help prevent the United States from becoming Greece, then his campaign is meaningless.

Ethan: Make no mistake, King has a great personality, and he is very likable. However, for both Summers and Dill, it is imperative that they force him to move beyond his cult of his personality and into the tough issues that have to be addressed. Say what you will about Eliot Cutler, at least he put solid solutions on the table. King is running to fix parliamentary procedure. No one cares about Robert’s Rules of Order. They care about getting a job that supports their family.

Phil: I thought we were supposed to agree to disagree? For now, on this we agree.

Ethan Strimling and Phil Harriman are former state senators. Their column appears online every Friday and in print on Saturdays. They are also political commentators on your local NBC affiliate and WGAN Radio.

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