LEWISTON — As the mayoral runoff election nears, last-minute efforts by the state’s major political parties to influence the local race are increasing — as are the accusations and drama on social media.
Leading up to the conclusion of the race on Dec. 12, the campaigns of Shane Bouchard and Ben Chin are both benefiting from their respective political parties, despite the Lewiston race being officially “nonpartisan.”
The Maine Republican Party, supporting Bouchard, and the Maine Democratic Party, behind Chin, have both ramped up efforts for the candidates, distributing mailers and emails asking for support.
More recognizable names are also getting involved, including Gov. Paul LePage stumping for Bouchard on Thursday and former presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsing Chin on Friday.
A recent email blast from Republican Party Chairman Demi Kouzounas asked supporters to donate to the Bouchard campaign, saying, “His opponent is doing the bidding of outside forces that don’t believe in hard work and self-sufficiency. Make no mistake, this race has statewide consequences.”
The email also says Republicans are on the verge of a “clean sweep” in mayoral elections this year, listing wins in Waterville, Auburn, Hallowell and Saco.
The Chin campaign released a video late Friday of Sanders’ endorsement. Sanders says Chin is “not afraid to discuss the real issues facing the community.” He goes on to say that “this is an election that can turn this entire community around.”
The mayoral campaign, including the runoff, has largely focused on the issues but is showing flashes of the tone seen during the mayoral runoff two years ago. Overall spending, however, hasn’t come close to what was raised in 2015.
Chin’s campaign has maintained a much lower profile than two years ago, when he amassed $90,000 in contributions during an unsuccessful bid to oust Mayor Bob Macdonald. This year, he capped campaign donations at $100 each.
In the period between the Nov. 7 election and Nov. 28, Bouchard and Chin raised similar funds, but they also got more help from their respective state political parties.
Chin raised roughly $3,800 during the period, but also received about $2,000 worth of support from the Maine Democratic Party.
Bouchard, who had been financing his own campaign, contributed about $2,400 during the period. He also received $700 from three contributors.
The Maine Republican Party has not yet filed a report with the city regarding election-related expenditures, but the state party has been responsible for email blasts and for promoting LePage’s meeting with Bouchard in Lewiston on Thursday.
‘A nasty last week’
While both candidates say they’ve remained focused on issues, the conversation on social media has taken on a life of its own. Much of it has focused on recently leaked campaign emails from Chin that have been posted to the conservative website “The Maine Examiner.”
The latest on the website claimed Chin’s car had been towed by the city recently after he failed to pay a number of parking tickets.
Ward 4 School Committee member Benjamin Martin shared a doctored photo on Friday with Chin’s likeness appearing on the cover of the film “Dude, Where’s My Car?”
It was subsequently shared widely by Bouchard supporters, including Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party.
On Friday, Chin confirmed that his car was towed because of parking tickets, but he added that he wouldn’t be surprised if the Republicans’ next move was to report on Chin’s overdue library books.
“Somehow, I think this election is about more important things, and I think people are going to see through that,” he said.
Regarding the tone of the campaign, Chin said, “It looks like we’re in for a nasty last week, unfortunately,” but he said he still feels good that the campaign has been mostly positive compared to 2015.
“We’re getting better,” he said. “It’s real progress to go all but one week of an election cycle talking about real things and not having mudslinging.”
Bouchard said Friday that he hears about the things circulating on social media, but that he’s largely “turned himself off” from it at this point.
“I’m not liking it, I’m not sharing it,” he said. “We’ve both been saying, ‘Stick to issues.’ I’ll beat (Chin) on issues.”
However, Bouchard did criticize Chin over the recently leaked emails, in which Chin described, in more than one communication, encountering racism while campaigning earlier this year.
Bouchard said that, taken all together, the emails show that Chin “only wants to talk to people who agree with him.”
As for the overall tone of the race, Bouchard said he believes there was a lull of activity following the Nov. 7 vote, but now that it’s just days before the runoff, people are paying attention again.
“Anything that comes out now is going to have more traction,” he said.