What candidates for Congress, Legislature, presidency must do to win

Ethan: OK, Phil, the “silly season” of politics is over. Labor Day has arrived, and now the campaigns get serious. Let’s offer a little advice on how to win in each race: for President, U.S. Senate, Congress and the Maine Legislature.

Phil: Wait a minute. Are you saying I have to advise Democrat Cynthia Dill on what she needs to do to win? That’s asking for a miracle. And what about independent Angus King? Every time we comment on that race, his operatives claim we’re trashing him.

Ethan: Well, since you served in the Maine Senate for six of his eight years as governor, why don’t you lead us off by taking that one?

U.S. Senate: King, Dill & Summers

Phil: King has a unique combination of affability, political experience and intellect. He is clearly the frontrunner who can win by campaigning as the candidate who is not like all the others. But, better yet, he should use his political capital to run with conviction. Show the voters a clear vision of what must be done to reinvigorate entrepreneurs and impose fiscal discipline in D.C. Run so that voters see him as someone who has courage and confidence about the job ahead.

Ethan: Sage advice. In the opposite vain, Dill’s problem is that Democrats have abandoned her campaign in favor of King. She has to confront that issue. Increasing the minimum wage, supporting renewal of the assault weapons ban and supporting President Barack Obama’s plan to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy are all areas where Dill is in line with Democrats and King is not. She must make this point over and over and over and over … You get the point.

Phil: Republican Charlie Summers has the best pedigree of the candidates: state senator, small business owner, secretary of state and active duty serviceman in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, I think most Mainer’s don’t know his values, principles and philosophy. Therein lies his path to success. He certainly needs to contrast his record against King’s, but if he doesn’t want to be a four-time loser, he must spend substantial time and money telling us who he is and where his values lie.

U.S. House: Pingree & Michaud, Courtney & Raye

Ethan: OK, how about Congress? For the incumbents in each congressional district, Democrats Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, less is more. With substantial leads in both polling and fundraising, these candidates don’t want to stir up any controversy or even attract much attention. Since the voters clearly like them, they need to let their strong records and personal appeal speak for themselves.

Phil: You’re right. In direct contrast the best path for the challengers, Republicans Jon Courtney and Kevin Raye, is to make a lot of noise telling people how Pingree and Michaud have been part of the problem in a Congress with the lowest approval ratings in history, and how they (Raye and Courtney) have a fresh perspective that voters on Main Street can relate to. So far I haven’t seen that.

Retaining or gaining majority in the Legislature

Ethan: Any advice to your former colleagues on how to hang onto that tenuous gavel? You know my people want it bad.

Phil: Incumbent Republican legislators need to mentor first time candidates. The messaging must tell voters how Republicans have spent Maine government’s tax dollars more wisely and how job creators are now being supported rather than berated. They also need to point out that Democrats voted with Republicans on most of the issues Democrats claim are reasons to throw out Republicans. As your boy Bill Clinton said Wednesday night, “It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.

Ethan: Ouch. In terms of winning back the majority in the Senate, the Dems have a serious uphill battle. In the end, we probably have to take out four Republican incumbents to win. That is a huge undertaking and probably not seen in the Maine Senate since the Lyndon Johnson landslide of 1964. However, to do it they will have to show real conviction in talking about specific votes these incumbents have taken that have hurt the economies and the most vulnerable in their districts. Don’t be shy about drawing a distinct line between our values and theirs. As Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said, “It’s time for Democrats to grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe!” The same goes for the House.

Presidency: Obama & Romney

Phil: OK, now the big one. But let’s flip the tables. In a previous column you made the case for Obama, and I made the case for Romney. Pretend you are an advisor to the other side. What does Romney need to do to win?

Ethan: Stop having movie stars talking to empty chairs! Seriously, I have two pieces of advice for Romney. First, you must let voters know your personal story and values. The Republican National Convention put together an incredible 10-minute biography that ran just before Dirty Harry (and out of prime time). If there is anything Romney should do between now and the first debate on October 3, it is run 60-second versions of this video 50,000 times on TV. Second, break orthodoxy with your party and find a move you can make to the middle. Call for taxing the wealthy in the name of our long-term fiscal health. Or, call for compassionate immigration reform. Or best yet, call out House Republicans for their obstructionism. As you point out above, nobody likes Congress these days, and people would see him as independent and courageous.

Phil: In terms of Obama, this will be his last election. He should use the pulpit to create a clear vision for America that includes mending fences with Congress, restoring confidence with job creators and confronting our long-term fiscal crisis. On the other hand, if he really believes the government should take over the healthcare sector, say so. If he believes all of our fiscal woes are because of the wars, then bring everyone home right now. If he believes all that ails D.C. is a do-nothing Congress, then propose amending the constitution to give the president more power. Basically, tell us what you believe, and stop making it up as you go along.

Ethan: Although I sense just a hint of cynicism in your advice, I will be sure to pass it on.