Adding math to a great column by Matt Gagnon


Matt Gagnon at Pine Tree Politics has a great reality check of the pundit class on the Snowe senate seat race:

There simply are no favorites in this race. Democrats should stop high-fiving each other and measuring the drapes in Snowe’s office, because their chances at winning this seat look no more promising than anyone else’s.

Gagnon is correct that a Democrat pickup here is not a foregone conclusion, especially in light of Cutler and/or King getting in the race. I would go a step further though – I would say that a path to a Democrat win here is almost inconceivable if the GOP puts up a credible candidate. We need only look back to the 2010 gubernatorial race to understand the math at play.

I think it’s easier to break down the ideologies of candidates to see where the most damaging splits would come. Here’s a hypothetical:

  • Chellie Pingree (D) – extreme left-wing
  • Angus King (U) – liberal
  • Eliot Cutler (U) – liberal
  • Peter Cianchette (R) – moderate

Cianchette has an automatic 30% just from party affiliation. And we can safely move that to 38%, because he’ll very likely pick up nearly all the votes that went to LePage in 2010.

So the remaining 62% gets diced up between two liberal independents and a left-wing ideologue. Pingree gets to bank only the 19% of hard-core party Democrats that Libby Mitchell held onto last time.

That leaves 43%. Cutler and King come in with their own strong but matching constituencies. Neither one would get below 6% in any case, and that means, in this case, it is almost impossible for Cianchette to lose.The only way for this to happen, in this hypothetical slate, would be if Chellie failed worse than Libby, giving up say 5 more points to the battling Independents. This still means Cutler and King would have to divvy up 48%, and that means one of them would have to garner less than 10%, again highly unlikely.

So what if there’s only one Independent in the race?

Let’s say it’s Pingree – King- Cianchette.

Again, Cianchette starts with 38%. Pingree will not siphon off LePage voters, and any that King would take would be countered by potential King voters that the moderate-friendly Cianchette would bring along (ie- Peter Vigue).

So Pingree and King would split the remaining 62%. Again, Pingree starts at a baseline of the worst Democrat performance in ages in Libby Mitchell’s 19%. That leaves King with a ceiling of 43%. So let’s inject some more reality here: First, a candidate like Cianchette will get more votes than Paul Lepage did. And second, Chellie Pingree-Sussman can buy more votes than Libby Mitchell did. Between these two reality checks, there only has to be 5% to bring a GOP win.

If the candidate is not Cianchette, obviously the math changes. I think Kevin Raye can come close to owning the LePage 38%, but only if he finds away to placate the right flank. I think the same is true for Steve Abbott as well. A Bruce Poliquin candidacy gets into funkier territory – the adulation of the true Tea Party folks has the potential to balance the lack of moderate appeal.

But however you slice it, there is almost no way for a Democrat to win this senate seat. Only in a two-way race is it possible, and if the candidate is Pingree, the GOP would have to nominate an equivalent ideologue to lose a statewide race to the candidate currently being drafted by

– by Lance Dutson