What would it take for Janet Mills to lose reelection next year? With former Gov. Paul LePage poised to announce his candidacy July 5, this question takes on sudden relevance. In politics, campaigns are lost as much as they are won.

Historically, Mills begins the race that will start next week with a certain advantage. Every Maine governor since the mid-1970s has won two terms, and if you discount James Longley who did not seek reelection, that trend goes back to the 1950s.

Also, no Maine governor in history served three terms since the 1880s. Back then, terms only lasted for one year. By that standard, LePage already had two, so in seeking a third, he is swimming against the current.

According to a poll this past spring, Mills enjoys the highest job approval of any statewide politician at 57%, even though it’s slipped five points in the previous year. Given the state of emergency she imposed during the pandemic — which led to an angry backlash — and expired last week, this can be considered good news for her.

So my question to a small panel of experts is, what would it take for Mills to lose? Here’s what I heard:

  1. A third candidate with some staying power could enter the fray. After all, this is how LePage was twice elected. Where is Eliot Cutler these days?
  2. The economy doesn’t bounce back from pandemic closure measures, and small businesses continue to be clobbered by labor shortages.
  3. Overreach by Democrats who control both houses of the Legislature lends to a sense of authoritarianism that offends independent-minded Mainers.

Had LePage not also supported the so-called Clean Energy Corridor, that could be a powerful arrow in his quiver, but alas. Along the same train of thought, should Mills cede any ground when it comes to Putting Maine First, that would certainly give the former governor an opening to take back the Blaine House.

Despite the advantages Mills seems to have today, state Democrats are only a year away from blowing their promising chance to take out Susan Collins. Sources close to the national Democratic Senatorial Committee lay blame for that at the feet of a weak campaign behind Sara Gideon, which begs the question: What happened to those people and could any of them creep into Mills’ reelection campaign?

Still, the fact remains that LePage never broke 50% statewide. Unless he learned some new tricks down in Florida, that means he needs a parallel movement of some kind to shake things up.

Coincidentally, his former spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett just announced a Take Back Maine coalition. Could that gather steam?

There is also an out-of-state surrogate named Donald J. Trump to be considered. Self-serving to a T, Trump never rewarded his prototype LePage with a cabinet post, but if he saw an opportunity to again use LePage to make it look like he renewed momentum, he’d seize that in a New York — err Florida — minute.

Which means LePage’s candidacy promises entertainment value. For hacks like me, that’s a minor bonanza. It also poses a question to Gov. Mills, provided she wants a second term. Has she learned from the unsuccessful efforts by Trump agonists who sought to defeat him by talking ceaselessly about him?

Paul LePage enters the race for Maine governor from a position he knows how to play well: underdog. The people who matter least in deciding whether he or Mills will win next November are the ones who do their grocery shopping at Freeport’s Bow Street Market. Does Farmington-raised Mills appreciate this fact?

Probably. That is why it will be a spirited campaign. According to WBLM this morning, Maine is Aerosmith country. Which candidate wears that better? Stay tuned.