Cash drives Senate contest
More than $100,000 spent from ‘outside’; Green rejects funds
Outside money is pouring in as the Aug. 27 special election draws near in Senate District 19.
More than $100,000 in outside money is in play as Republican Paula Benoit, Democrat Eloise Vitelli and Green Independent Daniel Stromgren vie for the seat.
Stromgren has said his campaign has deliberately refused outside money, while interests connected to Benoit and Vitelli
have increased their so-called independent expenditures by more than $40,000 in the last week.
Vitelli, of Arrowsic, is being supported by some $70,000 in outside funding, which the Democratic Party and its backers are spending primarily on radio ads and direct mail.
Separately, the liberal Maine People’s Alliance spent $5,800 to canvass the district and hand out literature promoting Vitelli. “We’re going door to door and talking to as many people as possible,” said Mike Tipping, the MPA’s communications director.
The Republican Party has raised some $30,000 in outside money for Benoit, of Phippsburg, who held the District 19 seat from 2006 to 2008, when she narrowly lost to Seth Goodall.
The GOP is funneling most of those funds to direct mail, Web advertising, phone calls and door-to-door campaigning.
Goodall, who had been majority leader of the Senate Democrats, vacated the seat in July after his appointment to a position as regional administrator with the Small Business Administration.
Benoit and Vitelli both qualified for $18,124 in Clean Elections money by collecting the required number of $5 checks from district residents.
Independent expenditures by outside groups, including the parties themselves, are unlimited by law, provided they are not directed by or coordinated with a candidate or a campaign.
A breakdown of the outside funding for Vitelli shows that some $50,500 of the $70,000 has gone into radio ads. A further analysis of the Democratic spending finds that about $43,000 has been spent to bolster Vitelli and over $27,000 has gone into radio ads and direct mailings targeting Benoit.
A recent Democratic mailing featured an unflattering photo of Benoit and cited her close association with Gov. Paul LePage, describing her as “a good partisan politician.”
That doesn’t go over well with GOP officials.
“They’re taking a scorched earth approach because this race is a must-win for them,” said Rick Bennett, chairman of the Maine Republican Party. “People expect the Democrat to win because the seat was recently held by a Democrat, so they’re going all out to hold it. It’s not very elevating and not very fair, but people can see through the negative mailers and radio commercials.”
Lizzy Reinholt, communications director for the Maine Democratic Party, said ads tying Benoit to LePage are not negative.
“She shares the same views as the governor, and she worked hard for his administration,” Reinholt said. “We’re simply stating facts.”
Ultimately, both camps said, the race hinges on voter turnout. Senate District 19 has approximately 29,000 voters, with 11,101 unenrolled.
There are 8,199 registered Republicans, 8,758 registered Democrats and 1,123 registered Green Independents.
Vitelli is married to Bob Kalish, a former staff writer for The Times Record.