LEWISTON, MAINE — THE national anti-incumbent mood has swept into the far corners of Maine where seven-term incumbent Rep. Olympia Snowe (R) faces a tough reelection race.
Like many incumbents across New England, Representative Snowe is campaigning in the midst of unsettling political times. The sour regional economy, public anger over Congressional scandals, and dissatisfaction with the current Republican presidential administration have made this year's reelection campaign a challenging one. And the fact that Snowe is married to currently unpopular Republican Gov. John McKernan hasn't helped matters.
"A lot of folks in the state feel the governor has not done a very good job, and if they had a chance to vote against him, they would really love to do so," says Kenneth Hayes, who ran an unsuccessful Democratic campaign against Snowe in 1988.
Here in the largest congressional district east of the Mississippi River, voters are worried about high unemployment, health care, and the environment. In addition, the scheduled 1994 closure of Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, Maine, has many residents fearful about their jobs.
For Snowe, this year's race is a case of deija vu. Her Democratic opponent, Patrick McGowan, lost to her by less than 5,000 votes in 1990. There also is a third candidate: Jonathan Carter of Maine's Green Party.
Polls show the two major candidates in a tight race. A study conducted last Friday by the Portland Press Herald shows Snowe favored by 44.7 percent, Mr. McGowan by 34.8, Mr. Carter by 6.7 percent, and 13.7 percent undecided. Two weeks earlier, the two major candidates were in a virtual dead heat, with Snowe leading by only four percentage points.
Mr. McGowan, who served in the Maine Legislature during the 1980s, runs his own store and motel in Canaan. He says 1992 is a year to bring fresh ideas and fresh faces to Congress. The United States needs to invest more in American workers, improve health care, and reform education, he says.
His campaigning style is low key. A classroom of Bates College students listens to the young candidate as he patiently explains his positions. Casually attired in a knitted vest over his shirt and tie, McGowan speaks about bringing change to Washington politics.
"Part of our problem in Washington is that government gets stagnant," he says. "New approaches and old approaches get rejected by old faces who say they won't work."
Both candidates stress health- care reform. Snowe advocates reforming Maine's current private-public system, including allowing medical facilities to share technology, standardizing insurance forms, and electronic billing. McGowan advocates a single payer health care system managed by one private or public entity.
Women's issues is another theme. McGowan, who is pro-choice on abortion, says he believed Anita Hill's account, in the US Senate hearings last fall for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, of sexual harassment when Thomas was her employer.
McGowan blames Snowe for not joining US Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D) of Colorado and other women politicians who complained about Justice Thomas.
Yet Snowe, who also is pro-choice, has earned a strong record on women's issues. Along with Representative Schroeder, Snowe serves as co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Women's Issues. In that role, she helped secure grants from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., for medical assistance affecting women.
She has pushed a legislative agenda promoting the interests of women and children, including support for the family leave bill, says Jane Fowler, Snowe's campaign manager.
In Congress, Snowe serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She backed President Bush during the Desert Storm operation and helped lead the effort to pass a balanced-budget amendment which was defeated by a narrow margin in the House earlier this year.
Maine's conservative Franco-American population could be a key factor in this race, says Christian Potholm, a government professor at Bowdoin College. He calls this constituency a "swing population" because it makes up approximately 17 percent of the district. Even if Gov. Bill Clinton gets the Franco-American vote in Maine, Mr. Potholm says, McGowan is not likely to benefit from it: "If they vote for Clinton, I think it's unlikely they would drop down to a second Democrat."