Bellows’ walk and other campaign gimmicks

10 years ago

    Shenna Bellows was scheduled to be in Dover-Foxcroft last weekend, shaking hands and posing for photos in her uphill battle to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in November.
Bellows has embarked on a walk from Houlton to Kittery, almost mimicking a similar jaunt by Bill Cohen, who reportedly walked for 600 miles through the entire 2nd Congressional District in 1972.
Cohen was relatively unknown – at least outside of his hometown of Bangor – at the time and the publicity probably was a key factor in his victory. Following that race and subsequent reelections, he went on to greater things in life such as the U.S. Senate and Secretary of Defense.
Opinions on Bellows’ candidacy usually begin with “Nice lady, but …” After all, it’s her first run for public office and most observers don’t consider the U.S. Senate to be an entry-level job.
Well, I take that back. Google “Al Franken.”
Nevertheless, many Maine candidates have used gimmicks – some more successful than others.
Remember Democratic Tom Connolly? He picked up a paltry 13 percent of the vote in 1998 in a three-way gubernatorial race against Angus King and Jim Longley Jr.
Connolly wore a long-billed fisherman’s cap during many of his campaign appearances and used the headgear on his posters, prompting some humorists to refer to him as the invisible candidate.
A few years later, Connolly was busted for “standing on the side of the highway dressed in a rubber Osama Bin Laden mask, waving a plastic gun and a sign promoting a Taxpayer Bill of Rights,” according to a Press Herald article.
Among the more sedate gimmicks came up in 1974 when independent Stanley Leen ran against Democrat George Mitchell, Republican Jim Irwin and eventual winner James Longley Sr.
While Longley’s upset win made the headlines, Leen’s series of newspaper ads served as humorous sidebars. He wouldn’t say much about his platform, but would list his itinerary in detail. He would accept every invitation within reason, whether it was on a talk radio show or a Kiwanis breakfast.
Unfortunately, his high visibility didn’t help the bottom line. He got less than 1 percent of the vote. Then there was the blue-blazer-and-tan-slacks campaign of Pat McGowan, who gave then-Congresswoman Olympia Snowe the toughest race of her career in 1990.
McGowan served in the Maine House for 10 years and apparently had a wardrobe full of similar attire. So at one local meet-the-candidates’ bash, his four sisters all showed up wearing blue blazers, tan slacks, dress shirts and ties.
The gimmick earned some good laughs and a little press coverage, but McGowan fell short of his goal in 1990 and 1992. He didn’t fare much better in the 2010 gubernatorial primary, either. I haven’t seen him in a blue blazer since then.
So as the campaign season shifts into high gear and things are about to get nasty, a gimmick or a few laughs is a welcome diversion.
So if you see Shenna Bellows wearing a blue blazer, tan slacks and a fishing cap while walking through your town, you can thank me for giving her the idea.
    Mike Lange is a staff writer with the Piscataquis Observer.