ROCKLAND — The non-partisan race for a single Rockland City Council seat has attracted interest from one of the state’s political parties.

The political affiliation of candidates for Rockland City Council are not included on the ballot and the parties do not nominate candidates. People make the ballot in Rockland by collecting 100 signatures of registered Rockland voters.

That, however, has not stopped the Maine Republican Party and Knox County Republicans from using social media to call for volunteers in support of candidate Nicole Kalloch.

Kalloch and incumbent Councilor Ben Dorr are vying for a three-year seat on the City Council. The election is Nov. 2, but voting has already begun through absentee ballots. As of Monday, Oct. 25, 350 people have taken out absentee ballots.

Kalloch is registered as a Republican, while Dorr is a Democrat.

“Although there aren’t millions of dollars being spent on TV ads, there are incredibly critical elections coming up on Nov. 2 in town,” an Oct. 12 email from the state Republican party to local Republicans stated. “I wanted to let you know that our local Republican candidate Nicole Kalloch is running for City Councilwomen.”

Local Democrats Pinny Beebe-Center, Rep. Valli Geiger, and Sen. David Miramant have all written letters to the editor supporting Dorr.

Also on Oct. 12, Paula Sutton posted on the Knox County Republican Facebook page volunteers were needed to do a literature drop for Kalloch. After the Courier-Gazette mentioned the post in the newspaper, Sutton warned members in another post on the Knox County Republican Facebook page.

“Quick reminder, this group may be private, but spies report to liberal media hack Steve Betts. Tread wisely,” Sutton said in the Oct. 17 post.

The Knox County Republican Facebook page is private and only those allowed in by administrators can view posts. The page has 589 members. Sutton is an administrator for the page even though she is a resident of Florida.

Sutton is a former state representative from Warren. She lost a re-election bid in 2018 when she was defeated by independent William Pluecker by a 2,249 to 1,891 tally. Her defeat came after her role became public in a newspaper advertisement and fliers attacking Democratic legislators — including then Rockland Democratic state Rep. Anne “Pinny” Beebe-Center. The ad and fliers claimed that legislators refused to protect young girls from genital mutilation by opposing a bill that specifically banned the procedure in Maine. Opponents to the bill pointed out such procedures were already illegal based on state and federal law.  The ad and mailing she funded showed a razor blade with a baby screaming and a woman wearing attire often worn by women from Somalia.

On the Democratic side, when asked if the Democratic party was taking a stand in the City Council race, Knox County Democratic Chair Zachery Annis said, “The Knox County Democrats typically don’t make endorsements in municipal, non-partisan races, but I know many of our volunteers are supporting Ben’s campaign. It’s not hard to see why. As a small business owner, Ben has a great perspective on the issues facing Rockland. And frankly, he’s been a thoughtful and effective city councilor,” Annis said.

He said he didn’t know why the Republicans were involved in this non-partisan race.

“I worry it’s part of an unfortunate trend I’ve been hearing about, where the Maine GOP has been using outside money and resources to prop up radical right wing city council candidates,” Annis said.

Kalloch did not respond to an email Sunday about what role the Republican Party had in her campaign.

Dorr said he has reached out to the county Democratic Party, but as of Sunday has not heard back from the party.

The Knox County Democratic Facebook page has had no posts about the Council race. The Democratic page, with 737 members, is public.

Rockland has 5,583 registered voters. The turnout in the last off-year election — one in which there is no gubernatorial or presidential race — in 2019, 1,167 ballots were cast. This means if the turnout was the same this year, a candidate could win with as few as 584 votes.

Dorr was the top vote-getter in 2018 when he received 1,244 votes in a three-way race for one seat, while the second place candidate received 711, and third place, 652.

Of the 5,583 registered voters in Rockland, 2,343 are Democrats; 1,720 are not enrolled in any party; 1,340 are enrolled in the Republican Party; and one person is registered as a Libertarian.

All five current members of the City Council were registered Democrats. Councilor Louise MacLellan Ruf changed her registration on Tuesday, Oct. 26 to unenrolled.

The last registered Republican to serve on the City Council was William Clayton who was last elected in 2014.

Rockland voters have not supported a Republican candidate for president since 1988, when then Vice President George W. Bush ran for president against Democrat Michael Dukakis. Rockland has supported only Democratic candidates for governor, U.S. Senate, U.S. representatives, and state legislators in the most recent elections.

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