Politics & Policy

Enter the Dodge

A tea partier challenges Sen. Olympia Snowe.

Despite the fact that he declared his candidacy almost two years before the election, Andrew Ian Dodge begins his senatorial campaign with a simple motto: “It’s better to get it right than quick.”

He’ll have to get a lot of things right to win this race. A 43-year-old freelance writer from Harpswell, Maine, Dodge hopes to unseat the queen of the Pine Tree State, Sen. Olympia Snowe, in 2012. The moderate Republican is extremely popular — for a senator, that is: Last December, Public Policy Polling found that 56 percent of Mainers approved of her performance, while only 34 percent disapproved. Unfortunately for Snowe, 63 percent of Maine Republicans would prefer a new, more conservative standard-bearer. The senior senator has irked the rank-and-file with her votes for the stimulus, the bailouts, and the health-care overhaul in the Senate Finance Committee. Can Dodge avail himself of their discontent?

Maybe. A number of obstacles are in his way. First, the challengers’ bench is already crowded: Businessman Scott D’Amboise announced his candidacy last year. Second, Republican governor Paul LePage, a family friend of the Snowes, has endorsed her for reelection. Third, Dodge, the former coordinator of Maine Tea Party Patriots, is a singular character. Talking Points Memo’s Benjy Sarlin described Dodge’s distinctive figure at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this month: “He’s typically clad in black. He sports a goatee and long greying hair reminiscent of a heavy metal roadie. He works as a freelance columnist penning political analysis and hard rock music reviews and has written a trilogy of ‘cyber-punky, kind of William Gibson-esque’ novels which he has published himself.” His campaign website even has its singular title: Elect the Dodge.

Yet Dodge argues that Snowe could learn from him. “I am truly a fiscal conservative,” he says. “Yes, bailouts and stimuli make you feel better, because you don’t want to be a mean person, but we can’t afford it anymore. She should be for cutting all different aspects of government so we don’t hit the debt limit.” Dodge is so focused on reducing spending, in fact, that he calls Sen. Rand Paul’s proposed $500 billion in cuts merely “a good start.” “I think it should go further,” he adds.

Dodge defends Paul’s controversial suggestion that the U.S. eliminate foreign aid: “If the cuts are across the board and not pick-and-choose, I think that’s reasonable. Passing out money like candy bars in WWII is not sustainable. It’s also ineffectual. There is a huge difference between when 17.5 percent of the Israeli budget was American aid and now when it’s 1.2 percent. American aid may be even less important to Israel; they just discovered a lot of natural gas.” Dodge thinks the aid’s defenders are reluctant to part with it because “it’s an emotional, symbolic thing.”

The candidate has also considered other legislation winding its way through Washington right now, including Rep. John Boehner’s school-vouchers bill. “I’m very much for school vouchers,” he says. “Parents know better what’s good for their children than bureaucrats. After all, it works for the Swedes. It would be interesting to see if we could get to a point in this country where parents could set up their own schools — as they do in some Scandinavian countries — with vouchers.”

On foreign policy, Dodge is skeptical of the Freedom Doctrine. “The arrogance and naiveté of the Bush administration was figuring out we could go into these countries and make them democracies in our own image — which is to a certain extent unrealistic because Afghanistan doesn’t have a democratic past at all.” That said, Dodge adds, “Finish the job prudently, then leave. What the Obama administration did was come up with a date out of thin air and announce it. I have friends in Afghanistan right now, and I’m concerned about their safety, and I hope politicians don’t do anything stupid to get them killed.”

And his recommendation for the turmoil in Libya? “Butt out,” he says.

One potential hang-up for the candidate is social issues. “If it means being tough on crime, anti-amnesty, and for traditional American culture and values, then I’m a social conservative,” Dodge reasons. If it means opposing abortion and gay marriage, then things get murkier. “Ultimately the federal government shouldn’t be funding abortion at any level, and abortion and gay marriage are states’-rights issues,” he says.

Another states-rights issue, Dodge contends, is drug policy. “The drug war has been a complete failure, and I think that drug policy should be a matter for the states. . . .  I think there’s a very good argument (and some policemen in Maine would agree) that cannabis should be legal. . . . Rather than chasing the local stoner, our police should be catching the guys who want to blow people up. Five of the 9/11 guys went through Maine,” he warns.

In short, Dodge is a libertarian with almost no name recognition running in a blue state. “It’s very much a me-against-the-world kind of thing,” he admits. “But there are people in Maine who are fed up with Snowe.”

And despite the terrible odds, Dodge remains optimistic. “As the rest of the world has shown us,” he concludes, “a spark of change can come from one man.”

— Brian Bolduc is a William F. Buckley fellow at the National Review Institute.

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