Here’s the brutal truth.
If Democratic US Representative Mike Michaud loses the gubernatorial election on November 4, it won’t be because of his congressional record (or lack thereof). It won’t be because of the policies he’s proposed (or not) to fix the state’s problems. It won’t even be because one or the other of his two opponents is a superior candidate (although that’s not an entirely irrational proposition).
It’ll be because he’s gay.
That’s the uncomfortable reality no one wants to discuss.
Late last year, Michaud publicly acknowledged his homosexuality. The experts were quick to claim it wouldn’t be a big factor in the gubernatorial race. After all, this was a state where voters had long since banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. Maine had voted decisively to legalize same-sex marriage. Openly gay and lesbian elected officials were hardly a novelty, anymore.
“I think for voters in general, the question of gay equality is not so much just settled as it is so settled that people are probably tired of talking about,” University of Southern Maine political science Professor Ron Schmidt told the Bangor Daily News. “I don’t think any kind of attempt to make this an overt issue would work.”
Note that word “overt.”
Michaud’s supporters rejected the notion that there could be an undercurrent of homophobia in this state so powerful that it might cause voters who’d supported the congressman since he was a fledgling state legislator in 1980 to nervously edge away from him. I mean, it’s not as if he’d been exposed to Ebola or something.
Even social conservatives insisted Michaud’s coming out wouldn’t be an issue for them. As Christian Civic League of Maine executive director Carroll Conley told the Bangor Daily, “The contrast between the three candidates is already so politically clear that I don’t see anybody resorting to [Michaud’s sexual orientation] for any kind of political advantage.”
At the most, political analyst Michael Cuzzi told the newspaper, Michaud might lose a few votes in “very devout, religious communities,” but he’d probably make up for that in the more liberal areas of southern Maine where support for equal rights has been strongest.
Others weren’t so sure. Republican Jason Levesque of Auburn lost to Michaud in the 2010 2nd District congressional race. Levesque told the Lewiston Sun Journal that the announcement would cost his erstwhile opponent votes on his home turf.
“I do not believe that it will be him being gay that’s the issue,” he said. “I believe it will be that he hid it for so long that’s the issue. It’s not his homosexuality—it’s why did he hide it for so long. That’s an important distinction.”
Uh…yeah, maybe there’s some kind of distinction there. But probably not.
A GOP legislative candidate running in a conservative area of western Maine that Michaud has traditionally carried by solid margins told me recently that many voters he’s met while going door to door are “uncomfortable” with supporting the congressman for governor.
“They just don’t feel the same way about him as they did before,” the candidate said.
“Is it because he’s gay?” I asked.
“Um, well, I didn’t want to say that,” he mumbled. “But I guess that has something to do with it.”