It’s the message most Democratic legislative candidates don’t want to find on their voice mail:

“Hi, it’s Libby Mitchell. I’ll be in your area next week and thought it would be really great if we could campaign together. You know, knock on some doors, visit some businesses, make the rounds of the nursing homes to spread the word about how wonderful everything in Maine is gonna be when I’m governor.”

In response to that sort of request from the Dem gubernatorial nominee, there are only a few sensible options. Such as:

“Voice mail from Libby? No, I didn’t get any voice mail from Libby.”

“My house is quarantined because I have Ebola virus.”

“Gee, I’d love to, but I already promised I’d go campaigning with Eliot Cutler.”

According to a poll released last week by Rasmussen Reports (motto: More Accurate Than the Average Maine Budget Projection), Mitchell has the support of just over half of voters who identified themselves as Democrats. But 48 percent of Dems say they either aren’t supporting her or are undecided. By comparison, 78 percent of Republicans say they’re voting for GOP nominee Paul LePage.

Of course, winning an election in this state doesn’t necessarily require deep backing from either political party, since a sizable plurality of the electorate is independent. So, how did Rasmussen find Mitchell is doing with that crucial group?

Eighteen percent.

Compared with 41 percent for LePage.

And 16 percent for Cutler, an independent.

This isn’t about name recognition. Mitchell has been in public office for decades, has served as speaker of the Maine House, president of the state Senate, director of the Maine Housing Authority, and has run for U.S. Senate and House.

This isn’t about resume. Mitchell has more experience in state government than either LePage (mayor of Waterville or someplace) or Cutler (helped Ed Muskie lose his bid for president, helped Jimmy Carter get kicked out of office after one term, lived in China, where he made lots of money).

This is about message. LePage is angry. Cutler is grumpy (and condescending). Mitchell comes off as detached from reality in a way that indicates a serious addiction to drugs that cause undue optimism.

At a forum in Machias in May, she was asked about the continuing shortfalls in the state budget, estimated to total a billion dollars or more in the next two-year cycle. “[T]here are bright rays of hope,” she said.

If you’re a Democratic legislative candidate, do you really want to introduce your friends, neighbors and supporters to a loon who says stuff like that? Don’t you worry that will have some negative impact on your own credibility? Does that explain why you’re hiding in the basement on the day Mitchell is supposed to campaign with you?

Last spring, the Portland Phoenix summed up Mitchell’s view of the economy thus: “Maine’s problems are due more to the national/international recession than management in Augusta.”

That’s like saying the house fire was due more to the dryness of the wood than the arsonist who dumped gasoline on the back porch.

Mitchell lives, works, eats, sleeps and breathes in a bubble. There’s no room for gloom and doom in her tidy little domain. She’s surrounded by state workers, bureaucrats and Dem politicos who’ve been using the same tired happy-days-are-here-again slogans since the Roosevelt administration.

“I think the voters share our party’s vision of hope,” Mitchell told the Portland Press Herald in June. “I think the message that Maine is about to fall off the end of the earth is not one that is resonating with Maine people.”

It isn’t? Then why is LePage leading you by eight points? Why are Democratic legislators defecting to Cutler? Why does your campaign have no traction anywhere outside of your state Senate district in the Augusta area and among the die-hard liberals in Portland (the ones who still can’t figure out why same-sex marriage didn’t win)?

Maybe it’s because Mitchell keeps saying stuff like this comment (from an impromptu speech she gave at the opening of the Democrats’ campaign office in Bangor): “I honestly believe that Maine is coming out of this recession much stronger because of the hard decisions and the tough decisions that we had to make.”

Most legislative candidates have to interact with normal people every day. They know this rose-colored-glasses vision of the Maine economy is crap. They know their constituents aren’t going to buy claims that it’s all going to be OK. They know the voters don’t want to hear improbable flights of fancy, such as Mitchell’s claim on her Web site that, “Together, we have made great strides to modernize our economy.”

So, when the message light starts blinking on their phones, Democratic legislators start working on their excuses, most of which are loose translations of something like this:
“I’d like to help you out, Libby, but my instinct for self-preservation just kicked in, and it won’t let me.”

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