Republicans rely on fear and attacks in election’s closing days

The knock on Janet Mills has never been that she’s soft on crime.

In fact, during the Democratic primary, I would say that her law and order credentials were a sticking point for some of the more liberal members of the party. And they were considered a strength in the general election.

She was a hard-nosed district attorney and as tough a person as I’ve known.

But now, with the election for governor just days away, the Maine Republican Party would like voters to believe that Mills coddles accused sex offenders.

It’s a preposterous charge. The ad that the GOP is running stretches facts so thin that it’s hard to imagine voters falling for it. But we live in strange times.

The ad is purposefully misleading and is meant to scare voters into thinking that Mills as governor would put their children at risk.

The Republican Party, burdened by a deeply unpopular president and policies that most voters reject – failed tax schemes and health care scams that would take coverage away from millions of people – are forced to campaign on fear and menace.

Lee Atwater, a Republican operative, is seen in his office with his favorite snack in 1988. Photo by Tim Dillon, USA TODAY.

Now don’t get me wrong. Fear and menace can be powerful motivators.

President Donald Trump is invoking an imaginary invasion and deploying troops to the border while openly talking about violating the US Constitution in hopes of revving up his base and scaring people into voting for Republicans.

Across the country, minority groups are being targeted as bigotry and hate are on the rise.

Mail bombs were sent to “enemies” of the president, while 11 worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh were brutally murdered.

The fringe is empowered.

The Trump administration and its allies are leading campaign after campaign attacking transgender people, trying to deny them basic protections in the law.

There is no bar, it seems, too low for some campaigns to crawl below. Eric Brakey, long-shot candidate for US Senate, I’m looking at you and your recent descent into name calling and race-baiting.

Brutal and ethically challenged GOP campaign strategist Lee Atwater may be dead, but his tactics live on.

CNN described him this way: “Everything about campaigns, in his mind, was about the spectacle and about feeding the crowds with grand narratives that depicted a world of stark choices between good and bad. His candidates were good; the opponents were bad. There were no shades of gray.”

Well, here’s the black and white behind the GOP ad against Mills.

Last year, a Lincoln County deputy sheriff was charged with 22 counts of sexually abusing three women when they were young girls. The Office of the Attorney General prosecuted the man. A jury found him not guilty of two charges and deadlocked on the others.

The judge warned the prosecutor that the jury had done a good job and that a conviction in the case was unlikely. The prosecuting attorney decided to salvage what he could. He cut a deal with the defendant to ensure that he would not be able to work in law enforcement again.

Imperfect, ugly, unsatisfactory. Full of gray.

But a jury of Maine residents had decided the case and that’s the way our criminal justice system works.

Mills at the time made a strong statement:

“We support the victims, these brave survivors,” Mills wrote. “We believe them. Unfortunately, the jury did not find beyond a reasonable doubt that [Kenneth L.] Hatch was guilty of these crimes. Fortunately, he will never work in law enforcement again.”

The Republican ad features a sweet looking little girl and a stern voices saying that Mills denied the victims in the case justice.

As Atwater said talking about his efforts to wrench power out of the hands of Democrats in the South, Republicans “could not win elections by talking about the issues. You had to make the case that the other guy, the other candidate, is a bad guy.”

Republicans are relying on thin talking points – not policy proposals – and nasty attacks to try to win the Blaine House. We’ve had enough of that. Time to reward good ideas and reject the politics of fear and division.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at