It’s hard to have a conversation with Max Linn without talking about the amount of money in politics or how the two-party system is broken. Pick a topic – student loan debt, health care, coronavirus relief – and it almost always comes back to corporate interests and how major party candidates are beholden to those who fund their campaigns.

Linn, a long-shot candidate in Maine’s U.S. Senate race, is trying to make the case to voters that if elected he will bring change. As an independent self-funding his own campaign, Linn said he wouldn’t be beholden to anyone except Maine voters.

“I come to the table beating the drum and saying, ‘I stand for change in Washington,'” Linn said. “It might not be the exact change Mainers or Americans want, but without me there what you do get is more of the same.”

The 61-year-old retired financial planner from Bar Harbor is one of three candidates vying to unseat Republican Sen. Susan Collins in one of the most closely watched and expensive Senate races in the country. Several polls have shown Democrat Sara Gideon, speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, in a tight race with Collins while Linn and fellow independent Lisa Savage have polled around 5 percent or less.

Also in play is Maine’s ranked-choice voting system, in which the second or third choices on the ballots of voters who support Linn and Savage could determine who wins the election.

Linn is a supporter of President Trump and is running on a platform that includes a five-year moratorium on immigration, $5,000 in coronavirus pandemic relief for Maine families, support for congressional term limits and student loan forgiveness.

But he also faces a challenge as an independent with little name recognition whom voters might be hesitant to support in a close race between two party candidates.

“The stakes are really high in this election and my guess is most voters are paying very close attention to the race and taking it very seriously,” said Dan Shea, a professor of government at Colby College, who said that even with ranked-choice voting in effect, it will be hard for the two independents in the race to break through.

“If Mainers believe the race between Gideon and Collins is razor close, they’re likely to cast their first ballot for one of those two,” Shea said. “Even though ranked-choice voting will allow them to do otherwise, I think they will zero in on a close race.”

Candidate Max Linn at the Maine senate debate at the Holiday Inn By The Bay on Sept. 11. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Born in St. Petersburg, Florida, Linn studied aviation at Louisiana Tech University but got his first job out of college in finance working for the brokerage firm A.G. Edwards. He went on to start his own financial planning business, Linn and Associates, which he sold when he retired early at age 42.

Linn spent time traveling around the United States and the world and fell in love with Mount Desert Island, where he bought a home 12 years ago and now lives with his wife, Hanna. They own a cafe, Hanna’s Lobster Cafe, on Main Street.

Chad Kessel, the business manager at Patrick’s By the Sea, a nearby gift shop, has been friends with Linn and his wife for the last few years and sometimes watches their pets when they’re out of town. “I find them incredibly passionate about conservation and Maine,” said Kessel, who identifies as an independent and said she will be voting for Linn. “They’re very concerned about the economy here and also the ecology of the lands and the water here. I really highly respect that.”

Not all locals are as supportive, however. Gary Friedmann, a member of the Bar Harbor Town Council, said everything about Linn’s candidacy is unorthodox. Town councilors don’t run on a party affiliation, but Friedmann personally is a Democrat and said he is supporting Gideon in the race.

“I really don’t understand where he’s coming from,” Friedmann said. “He seems to be a Trumper but wants to be independent. I guess maybe he’s implying Collins isn’t (supporting) Trump enough. I don’t understand why he’s running. He’s underfunded and relatively unknown. He doesn’t have a chance, so what’s his point?”

Though he’s never held office, Linn is no newcomer to politics. In 2006 he ran for governor of Florida as a member of the Reform Party, finishing third with 92,595 votes, or about 2 percent. The Reform Party was started in 1995 by presidential candidate Ross Perot to support a platform including term limits and campaign finance reform.

Darcy Richardson, a Reform Party candidate for Florida governor in 2018, was managing the U.S. Senate campaign of an independent, Brian Moore, at the time. He remembered Linn as a “colorful guy” and big proponent of term limits.

When he went to launch his own gubernatorial campaign, Richardson, who is currently running for vice president as a member of the Alliance Party, said he was going to reach out to Linn and was surprised to learn he had moved to Maine. “He’s still revered by a lot of people, by what’s left of the Reform Party,” Richardson said. “That was a serious campaign he waged. He put in the resources. He had a top-flight campaign staff.”

Two years after his gubernatorial run, in 2008, Linn ran for a U.S. House seat as a Democrat in Florida’s 10th Congressional District but lost in a three-way primary in which he received 5,424 votes, or about 24 percent.

In 2018, he was disqualified from Maine’s Republican U.S. Senate primary after the Maine Secretary of State found that a number of fraudulent signatures, including some from dead voters, appeared on Linn’s nominating petitions.

Eric Brakey, a former Republican state senator and Linn’s opponent in the 2018 primary, was the first to question Linn’s nominating papers. He said it “wasn’t the nicest primary,” but after Brakey secured the nomination he got to know Linn better and Linn ended up donating to his campaign. Brakey, who is currently working in Texas temporarily, is still registered to vote in Maine and said he cast an absentee ballot in which he voted for Collins first and Linn second.

“Personally, I think he puts on a big hyperbolic show but when you kind of talk with him, I think he genuinely has some convictions and some out-of-the-box thinking, which sometimes you need people willing to take things outside the box,” Brakey said.

In the last two years, Linn said he has become increasingly disillusioned with the current state of politics. “The Republicans have moved to the left and are printing trillions of dollars and growing government and the Democrats have moved way to the left,” Linn said. “We have no party in Washington that represents small government and fiscal responsibility.”

Linn is voting for Trump in the election and is a supporter, but said he’s also not a rubber stamp for the administration. One area where he disagrees is on environmental issues.

He supports the idea of a Green New Deal, a congressional resolution to address climate change through job creation, but said financially it doesn’t make sense. He’s also been outspoken in his opposition to the New England Clean Energy Connect corridor, a Quebec-to-Massachusetts power line proposed by Central Maine Power. Some residents in rural Maine have fought it on the grounds that it would destroy the wilderness without benefit to the state.

When it comes to health care, Linn said he supports a “hybrid” where people can buy insurance through the government but it isn’t mandated. “I don’t want to leave anybody out of medical care,” he said. “No one should lose their house or their finances because they get sick or need medical care, so you need a combination of government combined with private.”

Linn also said he would work to prevent corporate interests from influencing health care legislation and to bring funding for infrastructure and telemedicine to rural Maine.

On abortion, Linn said he personally is pro-life but wouldn’t try to legislate abortion. He’s also called for a five-year moratorium on immigration “so we can figure out what to do,” saying in the meantime the U.S. should work to document and deport those who have committed crimes.

On almost all issues, Linn draws a connection to the amount of money being spent in Maine’s Senate race, saying it only serves to make Gideon and Collins beholden to their donors. Close to $89 million has been raised by the two front-runners and another $71 million raised by outside groups for and against them. Linn is largely self-funding his campaign and has spent about $440,000 on the race so far, according to campaign finance reports.

Still, he said he has struggled to gain name recognition. “No one knows I’m in the race,” he said. “You do and a few people who are into politics, but I still go into gas stations with my RV with Max Linn on it and people say, ‘Who’s that?’ and I say, ‘It’s me.'”

But Linn also appears to be doing little in-person campaigning. While the coronavirus has made things difficult for all candidates, Gideon has continued to hold socially distanced outdoor suppers, Collins has had regular campaign stops as part of her All of Maine bus tour and Savage has made farmers markets her go-to for in-person events.

Linn said most of his campaigning is being done virtually through podcasts, Facebook and interviews with the media. Over several weeks Linn and his campaign said he had no in-person events where a reporter could observe him interacting with the public.

Linn’s debate strategy has also differentiated him from his opponents. In the first debate he spoke over moderators and refused to answer questions, and in the second he cut up face masks. While he is not against wearing masks, Linn said the statement was more about protesting government interference in people’s lives.

Asked about the coronavirus, Linn downplayed the pandemic and called it a “very weak China virus.” He said he thinks Trump has done the best job he can in responding, and that if elected as a senator, there isn’t anything he would want to see done differently. At the same time, Linn recognizes the economic impact the virus has had and supports $5,000 in relief for families.

“My focus is not the coronavirus,” Linn said. “My focus is the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, keeping small businesses open and stopping the printing of money.”

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