2014-03-21 / Columns

Politics & other Mistakes

Friends from other planets
By Al Diamon

According to a group called the Mutual UFO Network (motto: Sorta Like The Syfy Channel, Only Less Credible), Maine has more sightings of unidentified flying objects than any states except Washington (where marijuana is legal), Montana (where common loons and uncommon nuts both thrive) and Vermont (home of something called “snow golf,” which combines the worst aspects of two terrible ideas: winter and golf).

Unlike residents of those states, Mainers who’ve spotted flying saucers are not necessarily stoned or weird. Many are normal people, who really did see something strange come out of the sky. Namely:

Reporters from the national news media.

I myself have had contact with these alien life forms. One autumn afternoon in 2002, I was busily observing the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Susan Collins and Democratic challenger Chellie Pingree by taking a nap on the couch. Suddenly I was interrupted by an unearthly ringing. It turned out to be the telephone.

The caller was a journalist from a liberal magazine. He’d landed in Maine and set out to do a story on how Pingree had a good chance of upsetting Collins.

“Why on earth – if you’ll pardon the expression – do you think that?” I asked.

“I’ve seen the grassroots support for her candidacy, he said. “It’s all over the state.”

“Really?” I said. “Where in Maine have you been?”

“Portland,” he said. “And North Haven.”

Now I understood what planet he was coming from. North Haven is where Pingree lived.

I tried to explain that Portland’s political makeup isn’t typical of the rest of Maine. I noted that in the 2nd Congressional District, the Democrat’s campaign was almost nonexistent. I mentioned how Collins remained popular in rural parts of the state.

I thought the visitor would be grateful for these insights, but that wasn’t the case. “No one else is telling me that,” he said. “I don’t think you have a good perspective.”

He then vanished back through whatever space warp brought him here and wrote a story in which he claimed Pingree “has Collins looking over her shoulder” and that “a gust of Maine populism, merging with the corporate accountability zeitgeist, could catch Chellie’s sails and carry her to Washington.”

A month later, Collins beat Pingree by 19 percentage points. The Democrat won in Portland and North Haven, but almost nowhere else.

I mention this not to demonstrate how locked into the state’s political pulse I am (if I were, Ethan Strimling would be a congressman, and Mike Michaud would be driving a forklift). I bring it up because a dozen years after that alien invasion, it’s happening again. The night skies over Maine are alight with glowing objects bringing in big-shot reporters, this time to inform earthlings that Democrat Shenna Bellows has a real chance of knocking off Collins.

Set your phasers to stun.

“This year’s [Democratic Party] caucuses saw record turnout,” MSNBC reported, “with party members gathering in town halls and school gyms for a chance to meet Bellows and other members of the ticket.”

Record turnout? Maybe in an alternate dimension. In this one, the showing was about average for an off-year election, which is far below attendance in presidential years.

In arriving at her assessment that Bellows “makes waves,” the reporter seems to have visited Portland and Brunswick. No mention of any place north of Augusta, where the candidate hasn’t caused a ripple.

CNN and The Hill both made some effort to balance their stories, with the former saying that “conventional political wisdom” would argue for an easy Collins win and the latter noting the incumbent’s popularity before claiming, “in a small state like Maine, the grassroots engagement can make all the difference.” Nothing about how, in most of the 2nd District, Bellows has no engagement, grassroots or otherwise.

Nevertheless, Daily Kos claims Bellows is “all over the news,” citing stories in magazines such as U.S. News and Time, neither of which makes it appear she has a real chance of winning.

This media onslaught isn’t actually about beating Collins in 2014. It’s focused on the future. Democrats, who have a very thin bench (Pingree’s daughter Hannah and … um … is Joe Brennan still alive?), need Bellows to emerge from this race in passable shape, so she can, like Pingree, run for major office again. To make that possible, she’s got to avoid a landslide loss this year. The goal of the visiting ETs is to boost her within 20 points of her opponent.

To date, Bellows has gotten light years worth of mileage from raising significant early money (without it being mentioned that early money is the easiest to raise) and for being dubbed by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee as the “Elizabeth Warren of civil liberties.” Which is probably a lot like being the Flash Gordon of positive soundbites.

That stuff means something in the remote galaxy inside the Beltway.

Around here, it’s just more crop circles.

Transmissions from you will be received at aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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