Independent U.S. Senate candidate Max Linn of Bar Harbor speaks on a campaign interview show that also featured Lisa Savage of Solon, the other independent seeking election in the race this year. Steve Collins

In late August, independent U.S. Senate candidates Max Linn and Lisa Savage appeared together in an online show where both castigated the “corporate candidates” who are attracting nearly all the attention in Maine’s hotly contested race.

Independent Lisa Savage appearing on a Max Linn campaign video.

“Maybe you and me can team up,” Linn, a Bar Harbor businessman, told Savage, a Solon educator.

Linn told his supporters that he strongly recommended they pick Savage second on their ranked-choice ballot, ahead of both Democrat Sara Gideon and Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who is seeking a fifth term.

Backing one another, Linn said during the broadcast produced by his campaign, would send a message to the entire nation that “independents are alive and well” in Maine, whose other U.S. senator, Angus King, is an independent.

Savage didn’t take Linn up on the offer — “I politely declined,” she said — and Tuesday she made her second-choice preference clear.

She said Gideon, the state House speaker from Freeport, should be the No. 2 pick for her supporters because “no other candidate” in the race is within hailing distance of Savage’s progressive agenda.

Neither Gideon nor Collins answered a question Tuesday about their own second choice selection in the ranked-choice voting race that’s become one of the costliest, and vicious, political races in America.

Collins’ campaign, though, said, “We believe when voters look at who is running in this race, there is one clear choice.”

“Our goal is to ensure that Susan Collins is the winner which is why we’re encouraging voters to choose her as their first choice,” said her campaign spokesman, Kevin Kelley.

Gideon’s campaign has, on the other hand, regularly urged people to vote for Gideon.

The leading candidates so far in Maine’s ranked-choice elections have proven notably wary about naming a second choice, a strategy that Savage said isn’t wise.

Savage said the two front-runners don’t appear to recognize that ranked-choice voting races reward candidates who don’t run negative campaigns but instead reach out to competitors in hopes of earning their support in the second round of the instant runoff voting at the heart of the ranked-choice voting system.

Voters are free, she said, to pick whoever “most aligns with their values” because there is no spoiler effect as there can be in traditional elections.

Savage said that in ranked-choice races in other countries, where the system has been used for decades, it’s common practice for candidates to engage in preference swapping, with each of a pair of candidates telling supporters to vote for the other.

That happened in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary when former House Speaker Mark Eves and activist Betsy Sweet each endorsed the other as their No. 2 selection. It didn’t matter in the end, though, because Attorney General Janet Mills won anyway, ultimately coming out on top on Election Day as well to become governor.

The 2nd Congressional District race in 2018 turned on the results of the second round in a ranked-choice voting election, the first time that’s happened in a federal government election in the United States.

That year in Maine, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a two-term Republican incumbent, told supporters not to rank anyone on their ballots in a race that featured Democrat Jared Golden and two independents, Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar.

Golden trailed at the end of the first round of voting, but when the second-place picks of Bond and Hoar supporters were added in, he emerged as the district’s new congressman.

In this year’s Senate contest, which is expected to be close, it would not surprise many if the results hinged on the second-place picks from ballots cast initially for Linn and Savage.

Savage said, though, she’s in the race to win.

She said she’s finding a lot of interest in her campaign, with many Mainers attracted to her status as an independent candidate.

“I’m a little bit surprised how powerful the independent label is,” Savage said.


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