Down East 2013 ©
The election in senate district 15 will likely be one of the closest contests in November. The Republican incumbent, Senator Lois Snowe-Mello, is fielding a challenge from term-limited Democratic Representative Deborah Simpson. Snowe-Mello won by only 395 votes in 2006, and Simpson is a strong campaigner.
The experts I talked to all agreed that both candidates will work hard to contest the seat, but were split on who had the advantage. Columnist Al Diamon says the race leans Democratic. Tony Payne, director of AMF, gives the edge to the Republican.
One sign of how close the election may be are the independent expenditures that have already been made in the district race. Both the state Democratic Party and the Maine People's Alliance have reported spending money to support Simpson's bid, with the Democrats spending a whopping $13,000 .
Deborah Simpson is a four-term Representative hailing from Auburn, the district's most populous town. She's a single mother and can trace her family's ancestry in Maine back to the 1600s.
Simpson chairs the legislature's judiciary committee, and has worked on a diverse set of issues. When we spoke by phone, Simpson cited her work authoring and passing bills on greenhouse gas emissions, child support enforcement, and a property tax reduction program for seniors as some of her recent priorities. She also touted the bipartisan nature of her committee work, explaining that she always tries to reach consensus, and the judiciary committee has only released two or three divided reports a year.
When asked about her future priorities, Simpson spoke not about specific proposals, but instead about the people she has met while campaigning, and whose lives she wants to work to improve.
To make a point about health care, she mentioned a retired teacher she met whose pension was too small to cover her health care costs, but still $60 a month too high to receive state assistance.
"I met a woman, 91 years-old, who gets $400 a month from social security and is trying to heat her home," said Simpson, discussing the cost of energy. "She invited me in and apologized for the temperature. We should be apologizing to her. We can do better."
She laughed when asked if she wanted socialized medicine, as is claimed by her opponent.
"I don't think we need to socialize medicine, but we do need to take out some of the middle men," said Simpson. "Insurance companies make money by trying not to provide health care, to some degree."
Simpson says she supports more preventative care to keep costs down and a better safety net for people hit with unexpected costs.
"You see bean suppers and dances in the paper every day for people trying to pay for health care expenses," said Simpson. "I don't think that makes sense."
Simpson refrained from contrasting herself with her opponent, instead urging voters to investigate both their records themselves. She did comment, however, when asked about the actions of animal welfare officers at the Buxton puppy mill, an issue that got her opponent in some hot water last year.
"I think the animal welfare people are working really hard to protect both animals and people," said Simpson. "There's a link between animal abuse and human abuse."
"I get my pets at the shelter," she added.
Simpson says she's been doing a lot of door-to-door canvassing, and has had good support from local volunteers, but unlike other politicians I've talked to, seemed strangely hesitant about engaging in self-promotion. She admitted that in the end she might rather be volunteering on someone else's campaign, and noted that she didn't particularly enjoy blanketing the area in campaigns signs, which she finds "a bit of an eyesore".
Nevertheless, her own signs will be going up later his week.
Lois Snowe-Mello is a veteran legislator and a strong proponent of smaller state government. She beat her 2006 opponent, Edward Desgrosseilliers, by winning large margins in Durham, New Gloucester, and especially her home town of Poland, even as the democrat took Auburn, the district's most populous city, by more than 700 votes.
Snowe-Mello says she's confident about the race this year, and has been getting a good response from her constituents.
"People are smiling when I come to the door, which is really quite nice," said Snowe-Mello when we spoke by phone this week.
Asked about her key accomplishments in the Senate, Snowe-Mello said she works "extremely hard with other legislators to get good legislation passed," and explained: "I vote for budgets that don't spend a lot. I've got a real good record on not increasing taxes".
She also cited specific legislation, including bills that increased vision screening for school children, allowed workers to more easily transition from temporary to permanent employment, and instituted a 10-year statute of limitation for fines on corporate polluters.
When asked about future priorities, Snowe-Mello had a long, detailed list. She wants to work on the economy, taxes, alternative energy, health care, road repair, veterans benefits, welfare reform, and technical schools, all of which she feels strongly about. She probably would have named several more issues if we hadn't have run out of time for the interview.
On health care, she prescribes eliminating state regulations, instituting a high risk pool, and allowing Mainers to purchase insurance products from out of state.
"There are clear differences between Representative Simpson and myself," said Snowe-Mello when asked about her opponent. "She has voted for tax increases that will hurt everyone, especially small businesses, and will increase the cost of health insurance."
Snowe-Mello says she was happy to see that, because of the independent expenditures, she'll be receiving more money from the clean elections fund. She said her campaign will be looking into different advertising options to see how it can be most effectively spent in the days ahead.
On the puppy issue, Snowe-Mello claims she was misquoted in the Sun Journal article  and that when she said that the animal welfare program was using "Gestapo methods" when rescuing animals from an illegal kennel, she was simply repeating what someone else had said and not endorsing the sentiment.
Snowe-Mello has been canvassing since June and hopes her long hours on the campaign trail will convince her constituents to send her back to Augusta, saying "I'm a hard working lady, and I put my whole heart and whole soul into this."