November 10, 2012

Power of a good incumbent too much for 2nd District's Kevin Raye to overcome

Experts agree: U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud is well-liked and serves congressional district well, so voters saw no need for change

By Ben McCanna
Staff Writer

Kevin Raye had a lot going for him in his bid for Maine's 2nd Congressional District, but it wasn't enough.

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Staff graphic by Sharon Wood

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Outgoing state Senate President Kevin Raye stands in front of two stone grinders at Raye’s Mustard Mill in Eastport in late September. Raye, who ran unsuccessfully against U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, is returning to his business and says he is leaving politics behind — for now, at least.

Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Additional Photos Below

Despite four strong debate performances, endorsements by two Maine newspapers, an ad pitch by popular outgoing U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe and more, the Republican state Senate president lost to Democratic incumbent Mike Michaud on Election Day.

As of Friday afternoon, with 97 percent of precincts reporting, Michaud won the election by a margin of 16 percentage points -- 58 percent to 42 percent.

Raye won in only one of 11 counties in the 2nd District -- his home county of Washington. There, Raye prevailed by about 9,300 votes to Michaud's 5,900, not nearly enough to close a 53,000-vote lead Michaud ultimately scored overall.

Michaud's win wasn't as large as previous 30- and 40-point landslides, but it was a better showing than the last election, when Republican challenger Jason Levesque lost to Michaud by only 9 percentage points amid a national wave that swept the GOP to power in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Raye blames Tuesday's loss on another election wave, one that he says favored Democratic opponents in 2012, including the re-election of President Barack Obama.

At least three political observers disagree with that assertion.

"No wave," said Sandy Maisel, a political science professor at Colby College and a Democrat. "I do not think anyone else has made that claim."

Instead, they say, incumbents are just too tough to beat and, without a career-ending scandal, the 57-year-old Michaud might just hold his seat until he decides to retire.

Meanwhile, Raye's final Senate term ends on Dec. 5, and the 51-year-old veteran politician is weighing options for his political future.

So far, Raye is ruling nothing out.

Riding the waves

At the beginning of the 2012 election cycle, many observers predicted Raye would present the most serious challenge to Michaud since the two faced each other a decade ago.

In 2002 they campaigned for an open seat in the 2nd District and Michaud beat Raye by four percentage points, which remains the closest race of Michaud's career as a U.S. representative.

Since then, Michaud has won re-election handily five times. In 2004, he won 58 percent of the vote in a three-way race; 70 percent in 2006; 67 percent in 2008; and 55 percent in 2010 amid a wave of Democratic defeats in Maine and throughout the country.

Raye said the wave turned in 2012, and it took his campaign by surprise on Election Day.

"We felt like the wind was at our backs," he said. "It was, in fact, a very strong headwind for Republicans."

Raye characterized the election as the third in a series of wave elections. "Wave elections happen, but it's unusual to have three in a row," he said.

In 2008, voters overwhelmingly favored Democrats. In 2010, voters favored Republicans. And, in 2012, voters favored Democrats again, Raye contends.

In New Hampshire, for instance, both incumbent U.S. representatives were defeated by Democrats. In the Maine Senate, four Republican incumbents were unseated. Republicans also lost seats in the State House and ceded control of both chambers to the Democrats. In the presidential race, seven out of nine battleground states broke for Obama.

Mark Brewer, a political science professor at University of Maine, agreed that there were three wave elections in a row, but he said they began in 2006 and ended with 2010.

Jim Melcher, a political science professor at University of Maine at Farmington, sees it both ways.

"After a big wave election like 2010, there is almost always some regression back to where things had been, and that can look like a wave," he said. "Undoubtedly, it was not a great year to run as an Republican, compared to 2010."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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U.S. Representative Mike Michaud stands outside Great Northern Paper mill in East Millinocket.

Staff photo by Ben McCanna


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