Democratic Candidate to Hit the Literal Campaign Trail, Will Walk 350 Miles Across Maine

Democrat Shenna Bellows plans to hike across the state for her campaign against Sen. Susan Collins.

National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
July 17, 2014, 4:15 p.m.

She has new Maine-made New Bal­ance sneak­ers and a Maine-made L.L. Bean rain­coat, and she will be led along the way by a pickup truck with a camper shell on the back that in­cludes a re­stroom, food, and sleep­ing quar­ters.

Shenna Bel­lows, 39, the Demo­crat­ic un­der­dog chal­len­ging Re­pub­lic­an Susan Collins for her Sen­ate seat, does not much re­semble former Flor­ida Sen. Law­ton Chiles, fam­ously nick­named “Walkin’ Law­ton” for his mem­or­able 91-day, 1,003-mile walk across Flor­ida in 1970 dur­ing his first run for the Sen­ate.

But in Houlton on Sunday, Bel­lows be­gins her own three-and-a-half-week walk down the full 350-mile length of Maine.

“I’m gear­ing up,” said Bel­lows, who says she and her hus­band oc­ca­sion­ally hike re­cre­ation­ally.

The point here is not to see the back­woods, though. Along with walk­ing, she will be meet­ing and greet­ing po­ten­tial voters and at­tend­ing all sorts of events in some 63 com­munit­ies.

“This sort of walk may not work in 2014 in some states like New York or Flor­ida. But Maine is one large small town,” she said. “I’ll be host­ing events on a daily basis, en­ga­ging in house parties and break­fasts, and tours of loc­al down­towns and com­munit­ies left out by Wash­ing­ton polit­ics.”

By Ju­ly 29, for ex­ample, Bel­lows is ex­pec­ted to be in Bangor, where a press con­fer­ence is set at the Paul Bunyan statue. On Aug. 3 she is to be at the Muskie Lob­ster Fest­iv­al in Free­port, fea­tur­ing an ap­pear­ance by Demo­crat­ic con­sult­ant James Carville. She is sup­posed to fin­ish her trek on Aug. 12 with a clos­ing press con­fer­ence in Kit­tery, fol­lowed by a rally in Port­land.

The Collins reelec­tion cam­paign did not re­turn a call seek­ing com­ment.

A Han­cock res­id­ent who is a former ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Amer­ic­an Civil Liber­ties Uni­on of Maine, Bel­lows has sought to por­tray her­self as a voice for the work­ing class in her race against a pop­u­lar three-term in­cum­bent. She says her planned walk is just one oth­er way she hopes to com­bat big money “drown­ing out the voice of every­day people.”

But even her cam­paign’s in­tern­al polling shows that Bel­lows trails Collins by more than 30 per­cent­age points. Still, Bel­lows says her spir­its are high and sees her up­com­ing trek as a key mo­ment — or month — for her cam­paign.

Bel­lows her­self raises the name of “Walkin’ Law­ton” as a trail­blazer for this sort of thing, but she ex­plains that she’s also restor­ing a Maine tra­di­tion. For in­stance, she men­tions Wil­li­am Co­hen, who walked through the state’s 2nd Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict on his way to win­ning the seat in 1972.

After that, the prac­tice of walk­ing the state soon be­came a habit not just for Co­hen as he moved on after three terms to the U.S. Sen­ate, but oth­er Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates in Maine, in­clud­ing re­cently re­tired Sen. Olympia Snowe. But in the last 20 years or so, says Bel­lows, these sorts of walks have been dy­ing out.

In pre­par­a­tion, Bel­lows staffers have already driv­en the en­tire route to de­term­ine where to reroute for safety reas­ons, con­struc­tion, or whatever oth­er obstacles that might be found along the course of the trip.

The plan is for staffers to drive some­what ahead of her in a pickup truck, and they are pack­ing a tent in case one is needed.

But most nights, Bel­lows will be stay­ing with sup­port­ers or at bed-and-break­fasts. She will be camp­ing the night of Ju­ly 24 in Mat­t­awamkeag Park.

Bel­lows said early weath­er pre­dic­tions for the open­ing days of the trek look good, and that she’s op­tim­ist­ic this re­tail politick­ing will give her cam­paign, well, a leg up.

Bel­lows is also eager to start hik­ing for an­oth­er reas­on. She jokes that with all the barbeques, chick­en din­ners, ice-cream so­cials, and oth­er cam­paign events so far, “I have taken on a few pounds.”

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