Down East 2013 ©
The state Senate race in district 32 (Bangor and Hermon) pits incumbent Democratic Senator Joe Perry against former Senator Tom Sawyer, who lost the seat to then Representative Perry in 2004. The rematch is attracting a lot of interest.
Tony Payne, executive director (and blogger ) for the Alliance for Maine's Future , a PAC that's looking to elect a more business-friendly legislature, calls the 32nd District Senate race "the wild card" which could tip the balance of power in the chamber. George Smith, executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine , a man who always has his finger on the pulse of politics in Maine, lists it as one of the top races he's heard about this year.
According to Down East's own Al Diamon ,"Bangor is up for grabs, but will depend on how much – and how smart – each candidate works."
Perry told me that he hasn't been working very hard so far when I reached him on the way to his camp on Thursday.
"I haven't done a damn thing this year and I really have to get moving," he said, and explained that he plans to start knocking on doors for the first time on Saturday.
Perry agrees that candidate effort will play a big part in the outcome of the election and believes that it was hard work that allowed him to win the seat in the first place.
"In 2004, Tom didn't put too much effort into it. I did, and won by 280 votes."
He revealed that it was actually Tom Sawyer who suggested he run for the Senate seat in the first place back in '04, apparently preferring Perry as an opponent to fellow Bangor Democrat Sean Faircloth (Sawyer says he has a "different construction of history" on that point).
Perry believes Sawyer's heart may not have been in that previous race, but that the Republican is "in it to win" this time, which could make a big difference.
As a Senator and chairman of the Taxation Committee, Perry is proudest of his work on tax reform and school funding changes which he says have lowered the mill rate in Bangor and led to $8 million in new state education spending in Bangor and $2 million in Hermon. He also sponsored successful bills to build a new courthouse in downtown Bangor, provide a temporary racino location for Hollywood Slots, and build a new veterans' campus at Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center.
If he's reelected, Perry says he wants to finish the job on tax reform, which he believes will be easier now that the Tax Foundation has released a more accurate assessment of the state's tax burden, and to focus on rising energy costs, which he notes are often a greater burden for his constituents than property and income taxes combined.
Perry says he looks forward to a positive campaign, but he's wary of interference by "groups with an agenda who put out misleading information," mentioning the Maine Heritage Policy Center as one example.
He said he hoped that the campaign this year would be positive.
"I happen to like Tom," said Perry. "If he's elected, they'll still have a good senator, but I – my wife and I – are a lot more like the average people in Bangor than Tom is."
Sawyer also has yet to begin campaigning in earnest, but says he'll be knocking on doors starting very soon.
"Central Maine voters don't get too hopped up about campaigns until after Labor Day," said Sawyer, something he says he's learned from a long career of local civic involvement.
He'll be emphasizing that career throughout the campaign. Sawyer believes that despite Perry's eight years as a state representative and four as a Senator, he still lacks the kind of experience that the job demands.
"I'm running on my resume as a successful entrepreneur and a 30-year civic activist in Bangor," said Sawyer.
To underscore his point, he emailed me that resume – a 9-page, single-spaced CV detailing everything from his attendance at the YMCA Model Legislature in 1964 to his honorary degree from Unity College in 1996 to his participation in the Humane Society's capital campaign last year, and dozens of boards, elected positions, and philanthropic efforts in-between.
Sawyer admits that not everyone values his experience to the same degree, joking "I'm just like Hillary Clinton. People who don't like Tom Sawyer don't like him a lot."
If Sawyer is successful in using the weight of his impressive resume to bludgeon his way back into the senate, he has some specific issues he'd like to tackle.
"I voted for Dirigo Health based on the governor's plan, but it's now become painfully clear to me that Dirigo is not working," said Sawyer. "It needs to be killed and we need to start from scratch."
He also wants to "reinvigorate" OPEGA, the state's government waste watchdog department, and work on making sure that $300 million owed by the state to health care providers is paid quickly.
He says he has a plan to win this year by knocking on more than 3,000 doors, the number he hit during his successful 2000 race against Jane Saxl. He also says he has more than 650 district residents who have already agreed to place signs on their lawns and he plans to be constantly visible around town in his environmentally-friendly electric car, which can reach a top speed of a blistering 25 mph.
"He's a nice guy," said Sawyer about Perry. "He'd make everyone a perfect brother in law. I just don't think he makes a great state senator."
In a sign that the campaign might not be fought solely on issues and experience, however, Sawyer also sent me a link to a an anonymous blog post discussing a fine Perry received from the Ethics Commission for a clean elections violation in 2006.
In 2004, the election was nail-bitingly close, and ended up going to a recount, but Joe Perry has now had four years of incumbency, even his opponent agrees he's well-liked in the community, and this looks to be a high-water year for Democratic volunteer numbers and organization. So why do Republicans think they can take back the seat?
Cary Weston, Chair of the Bangor Republican City Committee , has one explanation.
"There's been a transfer of life into the Republican party," said Weston, who is also the founder of Fusion Bangor, a networking group for young professionals. He says he was recruited by the Republicans to revitalize a local party that has seen the entire city delegation go Democratic, and he believes he's succeeding despite some tough odds.
"If there's one thing that the Democrats do well that Republicans don't, it's politics," said Weston. "They have a well-oiled political machine."
Weston and his friends are working to build an organization that can compete, and says he'll have plenty of volunteers to help out the candidates this year, and that they've already done a good deal of voter ID work.
He also contradicts Sawyer about the candidate's own efforts so far, saying "Tom Sawyer has been knocking on doors already, along with a suite of volunteers."
In 2004, Perry won three of the four wards in Bangor as well as the city-wide vote, while Sawyer won decisively in Hermon. Perry won again in 2006 against Republican Frank Farrington by 1,357 votes.
This year's vote will be decided by a number of factors, including partisan turnout for the presidential and US Senate races and interest in the beverage tax veto referendum.
Also, look for spending by outside groups, which could lead to last-minute infusions of cash to both campaigns (Perry and Sawyer are both running clean) and cause a flurry of literature drops and radio and cable TV ads  in the last days before the vote.
Most political analysts, and the candidates themselves, agree, however, that the biggest factor will be the effort Perry and Sawyer put into the race.
If you're in Bangor in the next few weeks, there's a good chance you'll be stuck behind a slow-moving electric car that's making plenty of stops.
Maine Economic Research Institute Maine National Federation of Independent Business Maine League of Conservation Voters Maine AFL-CIO Maine People's Alliance
Perry Sawyer 31% (2006) 83% (2003) 33% (2006) 100% (2002) 100% (2007) 0% (2003) 88% (2006) 0% (2004) 100% (2007) 10% (2002)
Maine Economic Research Institute
Maine National Federation of Independent Business
Maine League of Conservation Voters
Maine People's Alliance