Good morning from Augusta. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was in Maine on Friday for a rally and fundraiser to boost state Sen. Eric Brakey, calling the underdog GOP challenger to independent U.S. Sen. Angus King “a different kind of Republican.”
It provided some star power to Brakey, who was running a distant second to King, a popular former two-term governor, in the only public poll of the race last month. Brakey and Democratic nominee Zak Ringelstein — who registered single digits in that poll — have been swinging hard at King in the early going while the senator has virtually ignored them.
While King, who caucuses with Senate Democrats, appears to be in a good position, he’ll find it harder to keep ignoring his challengers as we advance toward November — and Paul’s visit helped show that. The former presidential hopeful sat down with the Bangor Daily News before Friday’s fundraiser at a private home in Cumberland Foreside.
The libertarian-leaning Paul said Brakey would be a champion of unique issues, but he also said there may be ‘too much compromise’ in Congress. Paul and Brakey go way back. Brakey got his start in Maine politics as the Maine director for the 2012 presidential campaign of the senator’s father, former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, who had outsized support in Maine. Brakey also chaired Rand Paul’s short-lived 2016 presidential campaign here.
Rand Paul is more mainstream than his father, but he’s still a libertarian rabble-rouser in the Senate, where he often works against members of both parties on efforts to reduce defense spending and protect privacy rights. Brakey is cut from a similar mold, though Maine is heavily dependent on federal spending.
In an interview, Paul said King “runs as an independent, but he basically governs as a Democrat” — which has been true with some exceptions during his Senate service — and that Brakey presents “a different kind of Republican” and “an independent mind” on several issues, including war and privacy issues.
While those could be fusion issues that garner some Democratic support, Paul said there may be “too much compromise” on spending in Washington, D.C. — where he said Republicans have to give Democrats “welfare money” to get “military money.” On that issue, he would certainly have an ally in Brakey.
Both Paul and Brakey were cool to President Donald Trump early on, but they have warmed to him on certain issues since then. Early in the 2016 campaign, Paul was one of Trump’s biggest opponents in debates. Brakey has also refused to say who he voted for in the 2016 election, only saying that he didn’t vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Since then, both have embraced the president to a certain degree. Paul has defended the president during the Russia investigation and Brakey has called for Trump to host a rally here and said rather outlandishly that King would rather see “a nuclear bomb” dropped on the U.S. than to have Trump’s foreign policy succeed.
Last week, Paul suggested that Trump would be justified in using lie detectors to find the anonymous administration official who criticized him in a New York Times op-ed.
Paul said in an interview that being a libertarian doesn’t mean you have to oppose trying to find out if “people are dishonest or spying for another country” and that government officials often must consent to lie detector tests in other settings.
Democrats dominate early outside money in 2018 state races
Outside groups put nearly $2.2 million into state races as of a Friday reporting deadline, and Democratic groups are responsible for most of it. Democratic groups have accounted for 83 percent of that spending, and just two groups — the Democratic Governors Association and Priorities Action USA, a massive super PAC — have combined to spend $1.16 million, or half of the overall spending total for all state and legislative races as of Friday.
All of those groups’ money has gone into advertising and consulting efforts to boost Attorney General Janet Mills, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, or attack Republican nominee Shawn Moody. Maine Public reported last week that Priorities Action USA is housing pro-Mills ads on an innocuous-seeming Facebook page targeting women voters.
Other big Democratic spenders included groups run by the Maine Education Association and the Maine Democratic Party at $294,000 and $121,000, respectively. All of that money has gone toward priority legislative races so far.
The Maine Republican Party has accounted for all Republican spending so far. It has spent $363,000 in the general election cycle, almost all of it on a pro-Moody ad campaign.
First gubernatorial debate slated for Monday
The four candidates vying to succeed Republican Gov. Paul LePage will debate for the first time in the general election today in Lewiston. Moody, Mills and the two independents in the governor’s race — State Treasurer Terry Hayes and consultant Alan Caron — will be at the 4:30 p.m. debate hosted by the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce at the Ramada Conference Center in Lewiston.
Questions will be focused on economic issues, including retaining young Mainers, attracting new residents, supporting immigration and workforce development. It’s the first of 11 scheduled debates in the race, but the next one won’t be until early October.
Today in A-town
LePage signed four bills aimed at reforming the child welfare system. The Republican governor put his signature to four bills that he submitted related to Maine’s embattled child welfare system. The biggest one gave $21.2 million more in one-time funding to the system, including $8 million to replace an outdated case-tracking system, $3.7 million in caseworker raises, $2.7 million in pay increases for foster parents and new caseworker positions.
The Legislature’s Taxation Committee will meet today to review a government watchdog agency’s report on tax expenditures. The House and Senate are due to return on Thursday for what legislative leaders hope will be the final day of an elongated special session.
- LePage says he’ll keep withholding money from Mills’ office for legal services to state agencies until she changes billing practices. The governor’s spat with the attorney general has blocked $4.9 million in budgeted funds from Mills’ office and LePage told The Associated Press that he won’t released them until it starts billings agencies like private lawyers do — including hours and charges. Mills’ office has threatened to sue over it and she called LePage’s request “unreasonable and not in accordance with the law.”
- Hard hit by opioid addiction, four midcoast counties want to add a drug court. The drug court — similar to ones in six other Maine counties — would serve 25 to 30 people at a time, combining substance abuse treatment and mental health care with more traditional legal system services such as probation guidance. Both candidates for district attorney in the region support the idea, which would require the Legislature to allocate $750,000 to $1 million in startup costs.
- The hot, dry summer seems to have kept some infectious ticks at bay. The Associated Press reports the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said reports of Lyme disease cases for May, June and July were below long-term averages. Biologists speculate that the dry heat caused the arachnids to hunker down instead of marauding through meadows and fields to infect humans.
Field of dreams
To offset the pure joy derived from covering politics in Maine, I umpire baseball games. At least the people boo you to your face on the diamond — and the job comes with a mask and protective gear.
In that role, I managed to fulfill a bit of a dream on Sunday. I worked a game at The Ballpark, the former home of the Triple A Maine Guides and Maine Phillies. While calling balls and strikes for a game between teams made up of players 60 and older — how’s that for inspiring? — I got to waddle across the same field where future major leaguers honed their skills. It now ranks alongside working state tournament games — and surviving each game I start — as highlights of my “career” as a diamond arbiter.
The Ballpark, which now serves as the home field for the Old Orchard Beach Surge of the Empire Professional Baseball League, has seen better days since it was drawing more than 100,000 fans per season to watch Cleveland Indians in training like Darren Daulton, Cory Snyder and Otis Nixon hone their skills against visiting teams populated by the likes of Roger Clemens, Steve Lyons and Oil Can Boyd. A friend recently described The Ballpark as “post-apocalyptic,” but I prefer to think of it as a Field of Dreams that’s suffering from a slight case of sleep apnea.
After it opened in 1984, the Ballpark — which was known then as The Ball Park — quickly earned a reputation for being a challenging place to play because if you didn’t lose fly balls in the thick fog, the cloud of blackflies was likely to engulf the descending ball — or you. But on a late summer day with a crisp sea breeze and teams made up of sprightly older men playing strictly for the love of the game, it was perfect. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.
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