|PORTLAND – Jeff Ferland, the Republican candidate in state House District 120, stopped knocking on doors last week.|
Ferland, 21, lives with friends in an apartment on Munjoy Hill. He joined the Republican Party after attending a debate last spring with former gubernatorial candidate Peter Mills. Steven Scharf, a Republican coordinator in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood, approached Ferland about running on the GOP ticket for District 120.
Ferland, then an independent, decided the GOP’s priorities – cutting taxes and controlling government spending – were in line with his views.
But in an interview last week, Ferland admitted he was less interested in the party line than in running as a visible neighborhood representative.
“I wanted to represent the neighborhood,” he said. “The Republicans were willing to run with me and put me on the ballot.”
On Oct. 3, Ferland announced he would withdraw from the race. “There’s somebody out there that’s running a better race,” he said. “Ben (Meiklejohn) seems like a really good candidate.”
Ferland said he spoke regularly with the Green Independent Party candidate and said he had only met Anne Rand, the Democratic contender, at a recent debate.
His informal withdrawal from the race illustrates chronic problems that Republican organizers face in legislative races across the city.
“It’s emblematic,” Scharf said. “It’s a very liberal town. ...We sometimes run candidates in places that don’t stand a chance.”
Ferland summed up the challenge to his campaign in six words: “I’m a Republican on Munjoy Hill.”
In two other Portland races for state representatives, Republican contenders who replaced placeholder candidates toward the end of July, close to the filing deadline, have also called it quits on the campaign trail.
In District 115, candidate Melinda Loring, replaced Andrew Worcester.
“She’s on the ballot and running,” Scharf said, “but she’s not actively campaigning.”
District 117 candidate David Pelletier, who replaced Justin Boynton, will appear on Nov. 7 ballots, but according to Scharf, “He’s not really running a campaign either.”
In District 118, no GOP replacement was found after Benjamin Crocker withdrew.
Not every Republican candidate still running for the House of Representatives has stopped campaigning. Those still knocking on doors include Jason Lavoie (District 119), Sharon Forbis (District 114), David Elowitch (District 113) and Janette Gauger (District 116).
Scharf said placing candidates on the ballot merely to oppose candidates running unopposed is not a policy he endorses.
“We do it to put out a message,” he said, “to deliver our message.”
“Everybody’s got limited resources,” said Ron Schmidt Jr., a professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine. “The state (Republican) party definitely wants to support TABOR and Woodcock.”
Schmidt said the party likely hoped the statewide initiative and the gubernatorial challenger would draw registered Republicans to the polls to support local candidates.
“Especially in an election like this,” he said, “where the turnout is low, they’re trying to get people out for the big elephant.”
Peter Smith can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 126 or firstname.lastname@example.org.