It's Monday night in Sherman, ME and Shenna Bellows (ME-Sen) is two days and 33 miles into the adventure of a lifetime: Walking 350 miles in 21 days, from the northern border town of Houlton to Kittery, at the southwestern corner of Maine. Her feet are holding up and so are her spirits. She's on this trek to listen to the voters who would be her constituents- including those in little towns like Island Falls (pop. 793), where candidates for national office rarely wander by.
”It says a lot about her because she’s going to energize poor people, working class people, and people who need protection. She’s not representing Wall Street and the banks, she’s representing working class people by visiting all of them in Maine.”She's stopping in corner markets and door yards, and hearing from Democrats, unenrolled voters, and Republicans like this guy, a self-described "LePage welfare bum" who says it's time for change in DC.
Houses are far apart in the farmlands of Aroostook County, and cell service is spotty. It's hilly, and it's hot this far from the breezes on Maine's sparkling and more densely populated coast. She's traveling with a well-used but serviceable slide-in camper and a small rotating campaign staff. Supporters are signing up to walk with her a mile or three along the way as she passes through their counties.
Bellows is a grassroots progressive's dream candidate; the PCCC has called her "the Elizabeth Warren of Civil Liberties." Democrats in most any state would be proud to have a senator of her caliber representing them. But as luck would have it, Shenna Bellows lives in Maine. So the Senate seat she's running for is currently occupied by Republican Susan Collins, a three-term incumbent with a hefty war chest. Says Bellows in her first blog post from her walk:
If you can’t out-spend, you out-organize. I laced up my Maine-made New Balance sneakers today to embark on a 350-mile trek across the state. We walked 16 miles on Day 1 from Houlton to Smyrna Mills, Maine. This is a test: can grassroots democracy triumph over big money incumbency? We’re betting serious blisters on yes.Aside from the campaign financing imbalance, the biggest challenge for Bellows is getting her name and story to the voters. After 18 years in office, her opponent has almost universal name recognition. Bellows is well-known in Maine political circles from her work as the Executive Director of the ACLU of Maine, which brought her into contact with most of Maine's legislators as well as with the media. And she's got an enthusiastic following among the Dems who have come to know her since this campaign began. But reaching the less politically engaged voters is a challenge that will require a combination of smart paid media (see her first and second TV ads) and that gold ring of campaign strategy, earned media.
Will "the Walk" catch the attention of the news media, and capture the imagination of Maine voters? Two days in, Bellows is off to a great start. Watch this clip from the Portland NBC affiliate from Sunday's launch, and this one from Northern maine station WAGM, covering her stop in Island Falls.
Do voters really mean it when they say they want grassroots democracy? Like Shenna Bellows, we're betting on Yes.