Outgoing House Speaker Gaye Symington provides a much needed spark to the race and makes Gov. James Douglas' re-election to a fourth term perhaps a little less inevitable.
Symington has been in the thick of all the big issues over the past decade -- education funding, health care, energy policy, civil unions. Unlike the party's previous two candidates, Peter Clavelle and Scudder Parker, she definitely has what it takes to be a contender.
But there is a big problem for Douglas and Symington, and that is Progressive Party candidate Anthony Pollina.
Pollina has been campaigning, fundraising and generally filling the vacuum that the Democrats left open by not fielding a candidate until now. But Pollina has made little headway and has yet to prove that he is more than a potential spoiler.
If there is a three-way race, Douglas will probably get the 35-40 percent of the conservative Republican vote, Symington will get 35-40 percent of the liberal Democratic vote and Pollina will get the 10 percent that votes Progressive no matter who is running. That leaves the 10-20 percent of the people in the middle, the independents and moderates who have generally voted for Douglas. Who will they vote for this time?
There is a very real chance that neither Douglas or Symington will get the 50 percent majority needed for victory, and the House may end up deciding the victor. Considering how many Democrats she and Majority Leader Carolyn Partridge of Windham have recruited in recent years, how do you think they will vote?
Pollina once offered to step aside if the Democrats fielded a credible candidate, but that was months ago. Even though Symington and Pollina aren't that far apart on the issues, can Pollina articulate a reason why he, rather than Symington, should be the liberal in this race?
In Windham County, the one county that Douglas has not been able to win, Symington should do well (although there are a considerable number of people who haven't forgiven her for her foot dragging on impeachment and health care reform).
We think the upcoming race will be a study in contrasts. With Douglas, you have someone who is proud of his role of being the roadblock to every significant initiative that the Legislature has proposed. With Symington, you have someone who knows that leadership involves more than cutting ribbons, someone with the intellect and creativity to come up with new ideas and approaches to move the state forward.
We are looking forward to this discussion in the coming months.