That time a Mainer ran the outsider presidential campaign

Today is Patriot’s Day. For many of us, that means a day off, a chance to watch the Red Sox play early in the day, and the day for one of the greatest sporting events in America — one that ranks right up there with the Super Bowl, the Indy 500, and the Masters: the Boston Marathon. Three years ago, the marathon was marred when radical terrorists attacked America on that day, attempting — and failing — to disrupt our way of life.

Today, though, let’s take a moment to remember a Mainer who was a good and loyal patriot, who truly embodied the spirit of Patriot’s Day in so many ways.

Many years ago — 52, to be precise — this Mainer waged an uphill battle for the presidency of the United States. This candidate faced resistance from the party establishment, from the social norms and conventions of the time, and from the prevailing national mood. This candidate chose to run, instead of a traditional presidential campaign, a grassroots efforts aimed at circumventing the party bosses and the big corporate donors. In a time when direct primaries and caucuses were just coming into vogue, this candidate was using a campaign model that would later be adopted by candidates as widely varied as Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Ron Paul, and Barack Obama. This candidate was no extremist, nor was she truly an outsider, at least not in the way we use the word today. She was Maine’s own Margaret Chase Smith.

Sen. Margaret Chase Smith. BDN file photo.

Sen. Margaret Chase Smith. BDN file photo.

Of course, when she ran for president, in 1964, Margaret Chase Smith was considered the eponymous outsider, but it was for one reason and one reason only: Her gender. That was why she ran an insurgent campaign — not because she was too conservative or too liberal, but because she knew the party establishment would be against her not only because of her independent stances, but because of her gender. Had she been male, it is likely that many of the Republican insiders who laughed off her candidacy would have been solidly behind her: As a moderate Republican from a northern state, she would have been a perfectly viable opponent to Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater.

Instead, the Republican Party — with a divided establishment vote, much as has been the case this year — nominated Goldwater, a good man who was nevertheless far too conservative to win the general election. Smith — who voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which Goldwater opposed — stood against Goldwater on principle, while Hillary Clinton was a Goldwater Girl at the time. This makes for an interesting dynamic vis-a-vis Smith’s legacy in 2016, because while she would undoubtedly be no fan of Donald Trump, she also was vehemently opposed to the candidate Hillary Clinton supported in 1964.

However, the important issue here is not modern presidential politics, but that Smith ran an uphill, grassroots-fueled presidential campaign based not on being an extremist, but on being a moderate. She was both an insider and an outsider, and she established a national legacy for a whole generation of women to be involved in politics — including Hillary Clinton. Moreover, by insisting that her political identity was not wholly informed by identity politics, she set an example for many candidates in both parties — including the current president, Barack Obama.

Today, we face many similar issues in the presidential race: insiders vs. outsiders, gender politics, and identity politics. However, as Republicans — and as Americans — we would be wise to heed the words of Margaret Chase Smith, who told us that she didn’t “want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear.”

Jim Fossel

About Jim Fossel

Originally from Alna, Jim Fossel has volunteered with a number of campaigns over the years, including for Peter Mills for Governor in 2006. He previously worked for U.S. Senator Susan Collins and House Republican Leader Josh Tardy.