I was a sprinter in high school and college, even setting some records back when track distances were administrated in yards. I remember one of my coaches, Jana Bremer (who also taught social studies and had served in the Peace Corps), advising me before a particularly challenging meet to simply “run my own race.” I believe she said it to calm my competitive jitters, but the truth of it was, I always ran faster if I had a good opponent.

Those long-ago days spent sprinting around a track are probably why it seems strange to be running my state representative race alone. I’m certainly not the only one in an uncontested race — nearly one in five members of the 130th Maine Legislature will join me and be sworn into office after winning election unopposed in November, part of a trend that has been growing since 2016. I could not find a date for when the last unopposed race for District 94 occurred — mine may very well be the first.

We can cite many factors for the shrinking field of candidates, including the pandemic, increased political polarization, the reluctance of moderate Republicans to align themselves with more flamboyant, conservative leaders, and the rise of “instant criticism” such as that given on social media. Running for and holding public office is not everyone’s favorite sport, and it does require an incredibly thick skin.

And then there is our salary: just over $10,000 a year, plus a modest meal and travel allowance, for serving in what is intended to be a part-time, citizens’ legislature, but in fact encompasses many more hours than any part-time job I’ve ever held. Those hours need to be flexible, too, as there is little semblance of a set schedule at the State House. Most members are either retired, or self-employed like me.

Given these myriad reasons, any potential candidate might think twice before approaching the starting blocks.

I’m sure some of you, especially my colleagues who are locked in tight races, are thinking I am lucky to be unopposed this fall. Perhaps it means that my hard work the past two years has not gone unnoticed by voters in my district. I’m certainly appreciative when constituents thank me for the job that I’m doing, but just like when I ran the 100-yard dash, there are drawbacks to going it alone.

For instance, our newspapers, including the one you’re reading right now, tend to focus on competitive races, so I have to work hard to make sure my stances on the important issues that face us are represented. Although I have offered, I haven’t been asked to do a video interview, or participate in many candidate forums, because it’s a foregone conclusion that I will get elected. Yet prepping for debates or preparing for interviews helps me gain perspective on policies, and participating in forums helps me to learn what’s important in our community.

Because I am in an uncontested race, my campaign “war chest" has shrunk to the size of a shoebox. Once the deadlines had passed and it was clear that I was running alone, my funding as a Clean Elections Candidate was cut back to a total of $1,600. I was eligible for much more, thanks to the support of folks in my district, but my unopposed status means that’s the amount I’ve had to work with. I know this makes sense — why waste public funds? — but it’s also why I can do little to no advertising, and why I won’t have any glossy campaign postcards showing up in your mailbox. (With all of the stress on our postal service, perhaps it’s good that I’m on a shoestring budget.)

These realities are why I am working extra hard to be out and about in the community, trying to my best to meet and listen to folks in my district and, as long as I can do it safely, knocking on some doors. It’s why I am so gratified to see my signs in constituents’ yards, and why I still lugged around my wooden ones and hammered them in. It truly is an honor to hold my seat, and I’m thankful for the words of encouragement that come my way. But I don’t want to get complacent. I need to hear all of the voices in Camden, Islesboro and Rockport. I want to earn your vote in November, even if I am the only name next to the box. I may be running my own race, but I want to run well, finish strong, and go the distance for you in Augusta.

Rep. Vicki Doudera, D-Camden, represents Camden, Rockport and Islesboro in the Maine House.