PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Despite Maine's long hunting tradition, she rebuked the National Rifle Association. In the face of loud opposition, she wants to consider a national park in northern Maine. While her fellow Democrats celebrated a presidential visit, she chose to protest against big money in politics.
Cynthia Dill, who won a decisive victory in the U.S. Senate primary, isn't afraid to speak her mind on thorny issues, even those that risk alienating some voters.
"There's not a lot to lose for standing for what you believe in when you're the underdog. I don't see what the gain is to try to please everyone, pandering to whichever way the wind blows," she said.
Despite her victory, Dill remains an underdog in the campaign for the Senate seat that's being vacated by Republican Olympia Snowe, who chose not to seek re-election.
Both Dill and Republican nominee Charlie Summers face a challenge against well-known former two-term Gov. Angus King, one of four independents on the November ballot.
Dill's top campaign issues are jobs and the economy, making health care more affordable and accessible, and "economic and social justice." She thinks the federal government has a role to play by directing money toward education, infrastructure, and research and development.
Critics call her ultra-liberal. She calls herself a progressive.
She's no shrinking violet.
Dill describes the National Rifle Association as a "special interest" and said she's for reasonable gun regulations in a state where domestic violence remains a big problem for law enforcement.
As for a national park, even though many people around Millinocket oppose it, she says it's smart for the state to at least study the idea.
"The park represents an opportunity for jobs and diversifying the economy, and applying values that I think are Maine values: public space, philanthropy, parks, access to nature, ecotourism, research, business opportunities," she said. "There's just something so fundamentally American about national parks."
And then there's big money in politics.
For the record, Dill supports President Barack Obama and believes he's done great things. Nonetheless, while Obama was dining with campaign contributors at the Portland Museum of Art on March 30, Dill was across the street in a "free speech zone" near Occupy Maine demonstrators.
Dill didn't join in the drum-thumping Occupy demonstration, but she was there to voice her own concerns about the corrupting influence of money in politics.
She said she respects the Occupy movement. "In Maine, I thought it was a great example that the First Amendment is alive and breathing," Dill said.
Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster said Dill attaches herself to "far-left issues" and that it's her type of views that has led to the declining influence of the Democratic party in Maine and the party losing control of the Legislature and the governor's seat.
"She is the perfect poster child of the Maine Democratic Party," Webster said. "Liberal, pro-welfare, pro-government, anti-gun, national park up north, gay marriage. I can't think of anybody who better epitomizes what the Maine Democratic Party is all about," Webster said.
Dill is a relative newcomer to politics, and she's on the move. In just eight years, she's gone from her local town council to the state House to the state Senate.
Now she's the Democratic nominee in a race that could shift the balance of power in the Senate, where Democrats currently hold a 51-47 majority with two independents who caucus with them.
Dill, a lawyer, resides in Cape Elizabeth, an affluent community outside of Portland, and her views represent a good fit for her liberal congressional district, which seems to move more to the left with each election, said Mark Brewer, political science professor at the University of Maine.
But her views present a challenge in a statewide race.
"Some of her positions are not going to go over well with un-enrolled voters and maybe some typical blue-dog, Mike Michaud-type Democrats," said Brewer, referring to the Democratic congressman in Maine's northern congressional district, which is viewed as more conservative than Dill's district.
Dill, by now, is getting used to being the underdog, even after collecting 44 percent of the vote in the four-way Democratic primary, beating former Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap by 8.5 percentage points.
She understands that it'll take a monumental effort to take down King.
"He's the front-runner until he loses. I'm the underdog until I win. I'm in this to win. I realize that the odds are long but nonetheless I've been in the race in advance of him stepping in, because it's important that we speak up for things we believe in," she said.
Follow David Sharp on Twitter at http://twitter.com/David_Sharp_AP