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.

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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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