Politics & Other Mistakes: Gabba gabba, hey! One of us!

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As a resident of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District (motto: We’re The District You Didn’t Visit On Your Vacation, Because We Don’t Have Much In The Way Of Apple Stores, Uzbek Cuisine Or Trendy Bars Charging Eight Bucks A Glass For Draught Beer), I was surprised to learn that I’ll be making my selection for president based not on the issues, but on the Republican vice-presidential candidate’s preferences in recreational activities.

With the economy in the tank, terrorists on the offensive and Phish threatening to re-unite, it seems stupid to decide who I want to lead the country for the next four years because I’m impressed by a candidate’s hunting trophies or her husband’s snowmobile-race victories. But the media and pundits insist that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Al Diamon

According to the Maine Sunday Telegram, a newspaper that only rarely ventures into the untamed wilds north of Brunswick, GOP veep nominee Sarah Palin’s “moose-hunting, snowmobiling, hockey-mom persona is seen as playing well” in the 2nd District.

Seen, apparently, from the 1st District bastion of Portland.

Liberal political blogger Mike Tipping expressed much the same sentiment in a posting on Downeast.com: “Several Republican strategists have said that despite her tarnished national brand, Sarah Palin will still have some cachet here in Maine where her moose hunting and snowmobile riding could connect with voters on a cultural level.”

Also, we’re suckers for shiny beads and trinkets.

From the Morning Sentinel: “The McCain campaign thinks moose-hunting Sarah Palin and her husband, an avid outdoors enthusiast and champion of the Iron Dog snowmobile race, can help the Republicans win support in rural Maine, where hunting and snowmobiling are popular.”

In rural Maine, eating regularly and heating the house are considered wussy activities.

“The 2nd District is the kind of place where Republicans have done well,” University of Maine political scientist Mark Brewer told the Bangor Daily News. “It’s largely rural, almost exclusively white, has a high rate of gun ownership. Those are traits usually associated with Republican voters.”

Which doesn’t explain why the GOP hasn’t won a congressional race in northern Maine since 1992 or a presidential vote since 1988.

Did we miss the memo that informed us we were all Republicans? Could it be we’re too friggin’ numb to understand anything more complicated than shootin’ stuff, ridin’ our snow machines and goin’ to Lewiston Maniacs games if we can score free tickets off the beer-delivery guy?

While those activities may be important to many 2nd District residents (except them pointy-headed intellectuals at Bates College, them hippies in Blue Hill and them rich artsie-fartsie types who keep buyin’ up the coast), the truth is that when it comes to presidential politics, the 2nd District votes pretty much like the 1st District.

Since 1972, Maine has been able to split its electoral votes, giving one to the winner of each congressional district and two to the statewide victor. But that split hasn’t happened. A majority in both districts voted for the same candidates in every election for the last 36 years.

I’m betting that trend will continue in 2008, but if this election turns out to be a tradition-breaker, it won’t be because some vice-presidential candidate can field dress a moose. (“The mauve cummerbund looks nice, or do you think it’ll clash with the Armani antler accents?”) It won’t be because her husband races snowmobiles. (Given the economy, there may be more snow machines on front lawns with “For Sale” signs on them than at races.) And it won’t be because she knows the name of the National Hockey League franchise in Tampa Bay (Ice Flamingos? Frozen Palm Trees? White Wrinklies?).

If Republicans are serious about stealing an electoral vote from the Democrats (I mean stealing in a nice way, not like with malfunctioning voting machines or disenfranchised low-income and minority voters), they need to get past the clichés, and address the real differences between the 2nd District and Maine’s more prosperous southern tip. Those differences aren’t about party affiliation or political orientation as much as they are about practical matters.

In Sagadahoc County (1st District), the average weekly wage in 2007 was $762. In neighboring Cumberland County (also 1st CD), it was $732. In Piscataquis County (2nd CD), the average paycheck was $506.
According to a Portland Community Chamber study in 2007, Portland alone accounts for over 42 percent of Maine’s jobs, income and gross state product. That’s more of all three than the entire 2nd District.

Northern Maine is less educated, less healthy and less accessible than the southern part of the state. That offsets the 2nd District’s edge in moose-car collisions, snowmobile accidents and teeth lost in hockey-related disagreements.

More consideration, please. Less condescension.

Send food. Send money. Send oil. Send your comments to aldiamon@herniahill.net

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