2013-10-25 / Columns

Politics & other Mistakes

The name of the game
By Al Diamon

In politics, a candidate’s name counts for a lot. This explains why folks called Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln got their likenesses carved on Mount Rushmore, while the likes of Hitler, Stalin and Time Warner Cable didn’t.

There are exceptions to this rule, such as a U.S. senator from Arizona named Flake and U.S. House members who go by Bordallo, Fattah and Fudge, not to mention Charles “Bucky” Dent. But most successful pols have names that evoke positive images.

This is particularly true for candidates whose families have established noted political traditions, such as the Rockefellers, the Roosevelts and the Kings (Martin Luther, not Angus). The relatives who arrive later often trade on the goodwill created by their predecessors. Here in Maine, Jim Longley Jr. once managed to slip into Congress on a platform consisting almost entirely of confusing elderly voters into believing they were voting for his father, a former independent governor who was ineligible for the ballot due to being dead.

We’re currently seeing a similar effect in the state’s 2nd Congressional District, where early polls show Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci holding a slight lead in the Democratic primary to choose a successor to U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud. Baldacci is the brother of former (and aren’t we glad of that) Gov. John Baldacci, who once represented the area in the U.S. House. Joe Baldacci is little known outside his hometown, but a lot of people have trouble remembering first names (I got an email last week referring to the ex-governor as “Jack Baldacci”), so we can assume Joe’s last name is worth a few points in the polls, at least among Dems with short-term memory loss or delusional tendencies.

Once the public discovers that Joe doesn’t quite measure up to John (that may be the most insulting thing I’ve ever written about anybody), I expect voter preferences in the donkey party to shift toward state Sen. Emily Cain of Orono. Cain also has a name advantage. She was recently endorsed by EMILY’s List, a political action committee that limits its support to candidates named Emily.

Well, not exactly. They also have to be prochoice and Democrats. And they don’t have to be named Emily, although that certainly doesn’t hurt. But mostly, EMILY’s List devotes its considerable resources to candidates who look like winners – even if they share a last name with a biblical bad guy.

Another primary contender is state Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash (the town, not the brewery), whose legendary surname still carries considerable weight with Democrats and whose first name resonates with history buffs who think the Greeks only won the Trojan War by using a dirty trick. There’s also political newcomer Alden Smith of Sangerville, but it’s tough to figure how having a similar name to the guy who lost the 1928 presidential race in a landslide to Herbert Hoover is going to instill confidence among the party faithful.

On the Republican side, it’s all about name recognition, and two candidates have the early advantage. Unfortunately for them, they’re mostly recognized as losers.

Bruce Poliquin rarely mentions he got blown away in races for governor and the U.S. Senate, in spite of spending gobs of his own money, preferring instead to refer to himself as a former state treasurer. Considering that not one person in 10 knows who the current treasurer is (Whitey Bulger, I think), that seems like an ineffective strategy. Also, Poliquin doesn’t live in the 2nd District, so a lot of its residents have taken to calling him “Tourist Boy.”

Former state Senate president Kevin Raye of Perry twice ran for this seat and twice lost to Michaud. In the minds of many members of the GOP, his name would have become synonymous with failure if Poliquin hadn’t trademarked that moniker. Raye is moderate, smart and savvy – a sort of anti-Paul LePage – but that won’t play well with Tea Party voters, who are happier with numbskulls intent on oversimplifying every issue.

Funny how that last phrase brought Blaine Richardson’s name to mind. And Joe Baldacci’s. But GOP voters can’t vote for the latter because he’s a Democrat. And most of them won’t support Richardson of Belfast because he shares a first name with the governor’s mansion in Augusta, which shows he’s an establishment elitist.

Former state Sen. Richard Rosen of Bucksport has the same smartness problem as Raye and even less name recognition than Richardson. He’s electable in much the same sense as candidates with goofy names like Libby Mitchell, Cynthia Dill, and Pancreatic Cancer (“Call me Pan”).

As you can see, the right name means everything in politics, so if you want your kid to grow up to wield power in Maine’s 2nd District, carefully consider his or her handle. I’d recommend either Margaret Chase Princess Diana Superman or Edmund Muskie Carl Yastrzemski Mother Teresa.

Have your name added to the list of people I have protection-from-harassment orders against by emailing me at aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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