Betsy Smith and Strategic Voting in the Race for Governor

Bridget Brown | BDN

Bridget Brown | BDN

I was surprised to read the op-ed from Betsy Smith in the Bangor Daily News this morning, not because she’s supporting Eliot Cutler for governor – he has been a strong supporter of her and her former organization – but because of the 180 degree turn on campaign strategy she has made since 2010.

In that gubernatorial election the message from Smith was that voters should choose strategy over all other concerns and vote for whichever candidate was better positioned to deny Paul LePage the governorship.

“Paul LePage is an ultra-conservative, tea party zealot. Not only is he committed to barring any attempt for marriage equality in our state but he also wants to repeal existing protections for LGBT Mainers,” Smith wrote in an email to EngageMaine’s list in 2010.

“It has been our strategy from the beginning of this campaign to defeat Paul LePage, and to support the pro-marriage candidate who is within striking distance of that goal. Tomorrow, please vote for the pro-marriage candidate who you believe has the best chance of beating LePage.”

The implication was clear that supporters of LGBT rights should vote for Cutler (the email also included poll numbers showing him ahead), but the rationale for doing so was obviously very different from what she published today. Current polls show Cutler a distant third behind LePage and Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud.

Several things have changed for Smith since 2010. She no longer leads EqualityMaine and is speaking for herself rather than for a movement, so she may feel more free to consider issues other than broad strategy. It’s also early in the race and she might believe that current polling doesn’t reflect Cutler’s true strength. However, her announcement that she’ll be working as manager of a pro-Cutler PAC seems to preclude any later re-evaluation of her support based on strategic concerns.

Some people have expressed surprise that Smith didn’t mention that Michaud is gay in her op-ed, but I’m more surprised that there’s not even a nod to the argument for strategic voting that she made so forcefully just three years ago.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike writes about Maine politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center, writes a political column for the Portland Press Herald