Gun stunt shows desperation in GOP primary for Congress

There’s a real race going on in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District where Republicans will pick their nominee to face U.S. Rep. Jared Golden next year.

Failed U.S. Senate candidate and former state Sen. Eric Brakey was the first candidate to announce his intention to run. For months, he had the field to himself and managed to raise almost $338,000 in the fundraising period between July 1 and Sept. 30. He’s is running a tight ship, too, and reported spending just $29,000 during the same period and having about $317,000 in cash on hand.

Despite his best efforts to paint himself as a Trump-supporting, Libertarian-leaning gun defender, much of the Republican establishment has been in a panic trying to find a better candidate to take on the Democratic incumbent.

In this May 5, 2018 file photo, Eric Brakey, then a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, greets supporters at the Republican Convention in Augusta. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, files)

If you have an R beside your name in the voting rolls, it’s possible someone was about to ask you to consider running.

During his challenge to U.S. Sen. Angus King in 2018, Brakey failed to break through with funders, the media or voters. He raised less than $1 million and finished with 35 percent of the vote in a three-way race that also included Democrat Zak Ringelstein. King was re-elected handily.

Brakey’s head start didn’t keep two more name brand Republicans from jumping into the primary race: former state Rep. Dale Crafts and former TV reporter and press secretary for Gov. Paul LePage Adrienne Bennett.

Crafts looks a lot like the 2nd Congressional District. He’s 60 years old, white and a small business owner. Bennett is 40 and, despite serving for many years in the LePage administration, is attempting to position herself as an “outsider.”

I knew Bennett when she was a reporter. She was smart and personable and did good work for WABI-TV, working out of the station’s Waterville bureau. When she worked for LePage, was a tough advocate for her boss and was forced to clean up after a lot of his worst messes. That was good for him, but now she’s going to own that.

Despite her difficult work on his behalf, LePage was quick to throw his support to Crafts, who had been an early backer when he ran for governor. That history aside, it’s hard not to see the endorsement as a snub to Bennett who had perhaps the toughest job in Maine politics.

For disclosure’s sake, I support Golden. I’ve contributed to his campaign and will again. And while I think he’ll have to work hard and run a smart campaign to win his first re-election bid, he’s going into the race favored to win. My prediction is that 2020 will be a good year for Democrats up and down the ballot, in Maine and nationally.

As to the GOP primary, Brakey is fading and he likely knows it. Last week, he tried a stunt to get attention and to own the libs, as the phrase goes. He’s going to raffle off an assault-style weapon to one lucky donor.

The gimmick worked. He got in the news and even earned some attention — albeit negative — from a cutting editorial in the Press Herald, which called the ploy unoriginal, not funny and immature.

All three candidates are vying to see who can be the most gun-loving, NRA-supporting of the bunch. None, so far as I can see, are trying to position themselves as a moderate in the race.

Instead of boosting him, the Brakey raffle is more likely an indication that he can see the writing on the wall and feels the momentum moving away from his campaign.

Based on how he finished his ill-fated Senate campaign, with a wave of anti-immigrant statements, as his candle flickers further I expect his campaign to get harsher and more desperate.

I can’t read the minds of Republican voters, but I would think that Crafts — riding the LePage endorsement and his experience in the Legislature — is likely the frontrunner for the GOP nomination.

He’s the safe choice. Consistently conservative — to a fault in my mind — and a demographic match for the district.

Bennett is the less conventional choice, but she also has the greater upside. Whether GOP primary voters can recognize it or be willing to vote for a woman as their party has become more and more dominated by white men is another question.

There are only 13 Republican women in Congress, a 25-year low, according the USA Today.

Republicans will decide their nominee during a June primary, and if they choose, they can rank their choices on the ballot.

Brakey got in early and he’s sitting on some cash, but he’s going to have to do something less stupid than raffling off a gun if he wants to distinguish himself and win the race.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at