Town by Town: Waldoboro
We might have a competitive special election coming soon.
Legislators: Rep. Clinton E. Collamore (D-Waldoboro), first elected in 2022; Sen. Cameron Reny (D-Round Pond), first elected in 2022.
Well, Maine might have another election coming up already, and it could be a doozy.
First-term Democratic state Representative Clinton Collamore, of Waldoboro, has apparently been indicted on multiple counts related to potential campaign finance violations, and Speaker of the House Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland) has immediately called on him to resign. While it’s certainly laudable for Speaker Ross to immediately call for Collamore’s resignation, it won’t affect the majority - in other words, she can afford to lose the seat. Losing the seat is certainly a distinct possibility: Collamore only won 53%-47%. House District 45, which consists of the towns of Bremen, Friendship, Louds Island Township, Waldoboro, and Washington, is a seat that Republicans were bound to heavily target anyway - it was one of the closest in the state in 2022.
In examining the potential in this possibly open seat, though, the focus should be on the town of Waldoboro (pop 5,154), a coastal town that makes up for more than half the population of District 45. Last year, both candidates were from there, and if it opens up again, that will likely again be the case: Waldoboro has a history of sending both state Representatives and state Senators to the Legislature, like former Republican Senate Leader Dana Dow. So it’s time to do a deep dive into the politics of Waldoboro.
Waldoboro is a Republican town, but it can’t be taken for granted by the GOP: Like most places in Maine, neither party has a majority there, only a plurality, and in this case it’s not a particularly large one. There are just about as many Democrats in town as unenrolled voters, so those voters - as they are all over the state and the country - are the key to winning any election there.
Indeed, the political geography of Waldoboro is almost a perfect inverse of the state as a whole, where Republicans are nearly on par with unenrolled voters and Democrats hold a seven-point advantage over Republicans. So, Republicans have an advantage in Waldoboro, but it’s not an overwhelming one, and a well-known local Democrat can certainly win, especially in local races; Collamore isn’t the first Democrat to represent Waldoboro in the Legislature.
In statewide votes, Waldoboro might appear especially unpredictable on first glance: Barack Obama won it twice, LePage won it all three times he ran for governor, and Donald Trump has carried it twice as well. That makes Waldoboro - much more than Lebanon - a true swing town, one that generally aligns with the statewide results but with only a slight Republican lean.
Interestingly, it doesn’t exactly always follow the statewide trends: Although LePage didn’t do as well here in 2022 as he did in 2014 or 2010, just like statewide, Donald Trump actually improved his numbers in 2020, carrying Waldoboro by a slightly wider margin than he did in 2016 against Hillary Clinton. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there were a lot of - or, indeed, any - voters who switched from Clinton to Trump during his first four years in office, although there may have been. It could simply be due to a difference in turnout, which was higher overall in 2020 than in 2016, meaning that Republican voters were simply more enthusiastic in town that year. Non-party candidates also attracted fewer votes in 2020.
This means that, should there eventually be a vacancy in House District 45, Republicans have a real chance to pick up the seat. Indeed, it will be the first real test for House Republican leadership - and potentially for a new state party chair, if the Maine Republican Party is wise enough to change leadership. Under the current party chair and prior legislative leadership, Republicans haven’t had a very good track record at winning - or even being competitive in - special elections as of late.
This isn’t some district that Republicans might be able to pick up if all their cards come up right: it’s one that they never should have lost in the first place. Unlike Democrats, Republicans can’t afford to leave any seats that lean in their direction on the table; they have to be able to win all of those and make gains in Democratic-leaning areas to get a majority. A vacancy in this historically Republican district is a prime opportunity to correct the mistakes of last year (indeed, the past few years) and begin to rebuild and reinvigorate the party.
If Republicans can’t manage to retake this seat (and other seats like it in 2024), it’s hard to imagine how they can chart a course towards retaking the Legislature. That’s not to say it will be an easy task, but it’s hard to imagine more ideal circumstances than these. They need to start working immediately on finding a candidate and getting that person ready so they can hit the ground running the moment the vacancy occurs and the special election is scheduled.
To be sure, it wasn’t just the right thing for the Speaker to call for Collamore’s resignation; it was also the right thing to do politically for Democrats. If they can get a new person elected in that district in a special election, it will be a heck of a lot easier to get them re-elected than a flawed incumbent in unfriendly territory. Republicans must not give them that chance. They instead need to do everything they can to retake this seat now, so their incumbent can defend the seat next year when the general election comes around.
It’s not only a vital opportunity to bolster their numbers, it’s the perfect chance for Republican leadership to test new tactics, strategy, and messaging. The election might have just ended a few short months ago, but a special election in House District 45 could well set the tone for the next two years of the session and the 2024 campaign. It’s a great chance for Maine Republicans to press the reset button on a disappointing election cycle and begin to rebuild.
Let’s hope they don’t waste it.