Jenkins campaign hinges on Web friends

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Three years ago, a tide of write-in votes swept John Jenkins into the Auburn mayor’s office.

Now some people believe a second tide can sweep him into the governor’s seat.

Jeff Benedict, a marketing businessman from Waterville, has started a campaign to get Jenkins into the Blaine House. Benedict has so far spent no money — and admits he currently has no money to spend — but he does have the Facebook page “Draft John Jenkins 2B Maine’s Governor in 2010” and the backing of an ever-growing number of Facebook friends on the Web.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people that have said, ‘Yes, I know John and it would be great if he would do this,'” Benedict said. “There are a lot of people who are unsatisfied with their (gubernatorial) choices right now.”

Jenkins has agreed to run as a write-in candidate, with one stipulation: 5,000 people must support that Facebook page within 45 days. He believes that show of support might legitimize his campaign in the eyes of debate organizers, giving him a chance at being invited to participate.

“I just want a chance to get into the fight,” he said.

Jenkins, 58, of Auburn, is a former state legislator and former mayor of both Lewiston and Auburn who now works as a motivational speaker. He would run for governor as an independent.

The Maine Democratic Party offered no comment Wednesday on Jenkins’ possible run. But Charles Webster, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, did.

“He would think that he could get 150,000, 180,000 people to write his name in, in a manner that would be allowed to elect him?” Webster asked. “I find it hard to believe anybody would consider such a thing.”

Jenkins said he had no illusions about the challenges involved in running as a write-in candidate. He has no money, he’s entering the race late and he may not be allowed to join debates, whether or not his campaign gets 5,000 Facebook followers. But, he said, for months strangers from all over the state have regularly called, written and approached him to ask him to run for governor. He feels that people truly want him to help lead Maine. 

“It almost makes me emotional to see the level of enthusiasm,” Jenkins said. “People are just stopping me all over the place, strongly urging, in their own way, me to step into the arena. I point out clearly to them, ‘Well, folks, here are the facts. Let’s get real here. They’re the ones who remind me, ‘Didn’t that happen in Auburn already?'”

In 2007, Jenkins received more than half of the nearly 4,000 votes cast in a contested election for Auburn mayor after supporters mounted a write-in campaign on his behalf.

Jenkins pointed out that there are differences between that race for mayor and the current race for governor, including the fact that he’s better-known in Lewiston-Auburn than he is in other parts of the state. Still, he believes he may have a chance for governor. He wants that chance.

“My work is in the community, up close and personal with the people,” he said. “I’m passionate. I dare say it’s my ministry to work with the people and for the people. I’m committed to the work. The (governor’s) office happens to be a phenomenal vehicle to do what? To continue the work.” 

Benedict wants Jenkins to continue that work in the governor’s office. He first met Jenkins at a business event a few years ago and the two became friends. Although Benedict is a staunch Republican and Jenkins is an independent, Benedict said they share some political beliefs. When they have disagreed, Benedict said, Jenkins explained how he came to his point of view and Benedict respected that. So when he became unhappy with his choices for governor, Benedict thought of getting Jenkins to run.

“I wanted to start the Facebook page and just draft him without telling him about it, but that’s against the law. You have to have his permission to do it,” Benedict said.

Jenkins gave his approval, and to Benedict’s surprise — and delight — Jenkins’ campaign page began getting followers before it became official, causing Benedict to move up the launch date by a week. On Wednesday, the number of followers had nearly doubled, from 220 to 400.

“If we keep up this pace, the 45 days to get 5,000 is going to take approximately 20 days,” Benedict said. 

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