Crunch Time for Chin and Macdonald

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Lance Dutson: Some significant political theories are about to be tested in Lewiston: big government vs. fiscal discipline and optimism vs. xenophobic fear mongering. What's your prediction on Chin vs. Macdonald?

Steven Biel: Sorry for the cop-out answer, but it's just too close to call. Turnout is expected to be much higher than for past runoffs, and no one knows who will show up to vote.

I'll say this: Ben Chin started this race as a long-shot underdog. That he has even a puncher's chance now is impressive.

Lance: I agree. This one's a toss-up. Dems have requested 1,700 absentee ballots—1,300 more than Republicans as of last week. But the GOP tends to do better on Election Day.

Left Brain: Steven Biel

Steven Biel is a political consultant and former campaign director at the progressive group He lives in Portland with his wife and two kids.

Right Brain: Lance Dutson

Lance Dutson is a political communications consultant, veteran of Maine Republican campaigns, and owner of As Maine Goes. He lives in Falmouth.

Steven: Although not all of those Democratic ballots are Ben Chin votes. And don’t forget about the 500 or so unenrolled absentee voters. No one knows how they’ll vote.

Lance: True. But if turnout tomorrow mirrors Lewiston's last mayoral runoff, you'd only need about 2,600 votes to win, and the Democratic absentee vote advantage would be almost insurmountable. But this race has sparked the ire of all kinds of people, and that could mean a real unusual Election Day turnout.

The real question is: Will the Maine GOP's efforts to foment anti-immigrant bigotry in Lewiston work?

Steven: We know it works. Case in point: Two-term Governor Paul LePage and two-term mayor Bob Macdonald.

Without race baiting, the GOP is simply the party of landlords, bank foreclosures, and tax breaks for the rich. Dividing people on race is the only way Republicans can win in places like Lewiston.

Lance: I couldn't disagree more. In fact, I'd say the GOP's anti-immigrant fear mongering is what's made this a race at all.

Before the GOP launched its silly ‘race riot’ website, Ben Chin was a virtually unknown, 30-year-old community organizer with no executive experience running against a two-term incumbent military veteran and former Lewiston police officer. Chin didn't have a prayer.

Now we're seeing racist signs pop up across town, elected Republicans attacking sermons from Chin's church, and a tidal wave of statewide and national press.

As a result, Chin has raised fifteen times as much money as Macdonald, and this race is a tossup. If I were Macdonald, I would be extremely unhappy with the party's interference in this election.

Steven: Well, if Bob had set up a website, he'd have raised plenty of money off the national media coverage, too. He has no one but himself to blame.

But Bob’s divisive rhetoric is effective because under trickle-down, wages have stagnated, labor unions have gotten weaker, and the deck has become increasingly stacked against the common man and woman.

Ben is doing something that a lot of other Democrats have been too compromised by their own big donors to try: He’s running a strong progressive campaign powered by volunteers and small donors.

Lance: To be clear, Chin's campaign apparatus is the Maine People's Alliance, a Sussman-funded political machine, hardly 'grassroots democracy.'

But I agree that Chin has managed to morph from a guy who led an angry mob into a Bank of America branch into a smiling, forward-looking optimist. Maybe not the most consistent political persona, but it’s an effective contrast with the anger Macdonald projects.

Ah, Lance, I can always tell when you're desperate because that's when you play the Sussman card.

Ben is succeeding by focusing on people's real lives, like the slumlords who give Lewiston a bad name by letting properties fall into disrepair. Republicans have no response for that, so they resort to immigrant-bashing.

Lance: What really bothers me about this race is that it was such a lost opportunity. Chin has no executive experience, advocates for massive spending increases with no regard for the taxpayer, and lives in a fairytale land of unlimited altruism. Macdonald and the GOP could have focused on the issues that they've won on in the recent past: welfare reform, sound fiscal management, and--most of all--jobs! Instead, they took the low road, and I'm afraid it’s hurt them.

Steven: The only reason Bob can still win is because his skillful race-baiting gets tons of earned media. If he loses, it'll be because he's been flat-out lazy. Ben has knocked on every door in the city personally, while Bob has barely lifted a finger since Election Day.

Lance: That's a fair point. Macdonald raised essentially no money. He didn't try to appeal to the press. He didn't run TV ads or send direct mail to speak of. He didn't knock on doors. He didn't hold campaign events, and had no campaign staff. His most noteworthy public statements outraged most Mainers.

If Bob Macdonald wins this race without lifting a finger, what does that tell you about the appeal of today’s Democratic Party?

Steven: It tells me that dividing people can be effective, like Macdonald’s illegal and divisive proposal for a sex offender-style registry for food stamps, or raising doubts about Ben's ethnicity and religion--straight from the birther/tea party playbook.

That's how he's won twice before and why he'll be tough to beat tomorrow.

Lance: Tough to beat is right. Strange days in Maine politics.