PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A national organization devoted to getting LGBTQ candidates elected to public office is endorsing for the U.S. Senate in Maine former Google executive Ross LaJeunesse, a Democrat who wants an opportunity to unseat GOP Sen. Susan Collins.
The Victory Fund announced Thursday its endorsement of LaJeunesse , who said it will add to the “momentum and energy” of his campaign in the face of Democratic establishment support for Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon.
"Victory Fund is changing the face of public service in the United States by empowering more elected officials to serve openly and honestly. Mainers believe in those values, and I’ll be a fighter for equality and justice in the U.S. Senate,” LaJeunesse said in a written statement.
The Biddeford native served as head of international relations for Google, working in Asia, and served in several posts in California government, capped by a stint as deputy chief of staff to then-GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Before that, he worked in Washington for then-Sens. George Mitchell of Maine and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.
LaJeunesse and his husband moved from California to Maine in April.
The Victory Fund noted that LaJeunesse has championed human rights issues in his career, including working on an early draft of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act in the Senate, and executing Google's decision to stop censoring search results in China.
LaJeunesse said the endorsement provides a boost. “It definitely helps. But the way you win races is by doing the hard work that I’m doing. I’m traveling up and down the state, talking about my story,” he told The Associated Press in an interview.
The Victory Fund chose LaJeunesse over two other LGBTQ candidates — activist Betsy Sweet, who is bisexual, and attorney Bre Kidman, who identifies as nonbinary, meaning not strictly male or female. The Victory Fund said it gave the nod to LaJeunesse based on his resume, experience and fundraising.
He serves on the board of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, which works to build and support a pipeline of LGBTQ public leaders in the U.S. and around the world. Victory Institute is a sister organization to Victory Fund.
“We need more LGBTQ candidates. America needs us, too. We have a set of experiences that are important to making this country live up to its potential. The more queer people running for office, the better,” LaJeunesse said.
Also in the race is Gideon, the speaker of the Maine House, who received early backing from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
LaJeunesse downplayed any sense of inevitability with Gideon’s candidacy, saying he is doing the hard work to meet with people and earn votes. He also said he has skin in the game, providing part of the $600,000 that is being used to launch his campaign.
“We’re independent-minded folks. We don’t necessarily like it when D.C. tries to dictate who our nominee is going to be,” he said.
Kidman attacked the Victory Fund for highlighting a white millionaire who serves on a related organization over two people who have been involved in LGBTQ issues in Maine for years.
“As the first openly nonbinary person in U.S. history to run for Senate, I would be remiss if I did not note that Victory Fund has a history of favoring wealthy, cisgender gay candidates over transgender people in federal races,” Kidman said. Cisgender refers to someone whose gender identity corresponds with the sex the person was identified as having at birth.
Collins, who is seeking a fifth term, is considered among the most vulnerable Republican senators, a new position for her in a state where rising polarization and partisanship is clashing with a culture of independence. Long viewed as a centrist, she angered Democrats for voting for conservative Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, and critics also say she has not done enough to stand up to President Donald Trump.
LaJeunesse, who left Google after becoming disenchanted, said he thinks his story of how his family struggled in Biddeford to make ends meet and how his parents nearly lost the family home will resonate with voters in a state where economic growth and wages lag behind other states in the region. His father was a truck driver and hardware store owner, and his mother baby-sat and cleaned homes to help make ends meet.
“I’m not in this race to make a point. I’m in the race to win it. I’m in the race because I think I’m the best candidate to beat Sen. Collins,” he said.