During critical weeks of one of Maine’s strangest political campaigns, nobody kissed babies, knocked on doors, marched in parades or even shook hands.

Instead, for much of the spring, candidates obeying stay-at-home orders limited their campaigns to social media, online Zoom sessions, teleconferences and other strangely impersonal interactions for an activity famous for pressing the flesh.

The pandemic primary draws to a close Tuesday when voters, many of whom have already cast absentee ballots, get their say in two closely watched elections.

They’ll pick the Democratic standard bearer to face Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in the general election and a GOP congressional contender for Maine’s tightly contested 2nd District.

The primary, initially scheduled for early June, got shoved back five weeks by Gov. Janet Mills in the hope COVID-19 would pose less of a threat.

Though campaigns began reverting a little closer to normality in recent weeks, voters are still urged to wear face coverings to the polls and to keep their distance from one another to avoid the possibility of contributing to the spread of the deadly disease that has killed 114 Mainers and more than 130,000 Americans in the past four months.

Collins, who is seeking a fifth six-year term, is facing her toughest reelection challenge in a ranked-choice voting race that also features at least two independents. Democrats say ousting her is crucial to their snatching control of the Senate from the Republicans.

First-term U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, who defeated an incumbent GOP congressman in 2018 by a narrow margin, is widely viewed as one of the most vulnerable U.S. House members of his party this year because his rural district enthusiastically backed President Donald Trump in 2016.

In addition to the two marquee political races, voters will also decide Tuesday the fate of two statewide bond questions.

One would borrow $105 million to help fund Maine’s infrastructure, such as roads and ports, while the other asks for approval of a $15 million plan to bolster broadband in a state that lacks good internet access.

From left, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, Bre Kidman and Betsy Sweet File photos

Many communities also have local issues and primaries on the ballot, including a number of school budget proposals.

In the Senate primary, Democrats Betsy Sweet of Hallowell, Bre Kidman of Saco and Sara Gideon of Freeport are vying for the opportunity to challenge Collins. Gideon has raised, by far, the most money and major endorsements.

“It’s time for better leadership,” Gideon said. “Susan Collins has made clear that she’ll continue to enable Donald Trump.”

Her opponents agree with the speaker of the state House, but question Gideon’s passion, transparency and policies, especially after she skipped nearly every opportunity to share a stage with her challengers.

Sweet said Democrats need to “stop relying on a failed playbook” that has aimed to beat Collins by raising “a ton of money” to “flood the TV with ads, and ignore the solutions Mainers have been asking for.”

“I’ve got the fire in the belly and the flame in my heart to make this world a better place,” said Sweet, who backs the Green New Deal and a single-payer health care system.

“Vote your values, vote your heart,” Kidman told voters Monday. She urged voters to avoid Gideon, “a millionaire who doesn’t support Medicare for All.”

Sweet and Kidman are counting in part on securing a big majority of the second-place votes cast by people whose first choice candidate finished last.

In the congressional primary, Republicans Eric Brakey of Auburn, Adrienne Bennett of Bangor and Dale Crafts of Lisbon are jostling for the chance to make the Nov. 3 ballot, which does not include any third party or independent contenders.

From left, Adrienne Bennett, Eric Brakey and Dale Crafts. File photos

Brakey, who has raised the most money, said Monday that Crafts “was polling in third for so long” in the contest but is now “more of a force in this race.”

Crafts was buoyed by the endorsement of former two-term Gov. Paul LePage, who remains popular among rank-and-file Republicans.

More than $1 million has been spent in the race by dark-money Super PACs, two-thirds of it to bolster Brakey and the rest to bash him. Crafts and Bennett were mostly ignored by outside groups who focused on the perceived front-runner.

The groups are barred by law from having any ties to candidates. Their advertising has shown up on television and on social media for weeks.

This weekend, Brakey seized on a report in The Intercept to slam Crafts for hiring a campaign consulting firm operated by a registered agent of Saudi Arabia, a country the former state senator from Auburn has often lambasted for its willingness to wage war in Yemen, kill journalists and cozy up to terrorists.

Brakey said Crafts should sever ties to the firm, Eaton River Strategies. He called the Saudi connection “a very direct conflict of interest” for Crafts’ campaign.

“Enough with the slanderous lies, Eric,” Crafts responded on Twitter. “As your friend, it is extremely disappointing to see you lower yourself to this level.”

The three GOP congressional hopefuls agree on many issues, from guns to taxes, but a rift on foreign policy has been clear for months, with Brakey repeatedly calling for U.S. troops to come home and for the country to cease “endless foreign wars.”

Crafts has largely taken a traditional Republican approach to foreign policy while Bennett calls her own approach a “sensible pro-America, pro-military policy” that she equates with Trump.

One of the ironies of the primary is that the Republican race will likely require a second-round tally in a ranked-choice voting race to decide the winner, though someone may be clearly ahead after the first round. The GOP is trying to kill ranked-choice voting, which it blames for putting Golden in office in 2018.

Voters should be aware that their polling place may not be at its usual location because of measures by registrars to try to ensure public safety during the pandemic. Find your polling place at VoteInMaine.com/lookup.

The polls are open until 8 p.m. Tuesday. Absentee ballots must be in the hands of registrars before the polls close in order to be counted.


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