Former Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling holds a sign during a press conference at City Hall on Nov. 4, 2020. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — A longshot campaign to draft a top legislative Democrat to challenge Gov. Janet Mills in a primary shut down several months after launching, with the remaining money going in late December to a political group run by Portland’s former mayor.

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, who has deep ties to organized labor, always maintained he had no interest in challenging Mills despite disagreements with her in the past year. The Democratic governor is unlikely to face a competitive primary en route to an expected general election showdown with former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican.

But a group of labor unions, working in concert with former Portland mayor and progressive activist Ethan Strimling, launched a political action committee under the name Run Troy Run last fall aiming to build on progressive frustration with Mills over her vetoes on bills related to criminal justice and prescription drug pricing, among others.

Jackson did not work with the group, with a spokesperson telling the Maine Monitor he was “deeply disappointed” by it. His office did not respond to an inquiry on Wednesday.

The committee, which raised $20,000 from unions — including a machinists union for which Jackson has worked in the past — spent roughly 30 percent of that on a website and texting program, according to campaign finance filings.

Before it was terminated, it donated more than $13,500 to Swing Hard, Turn Left, a 501(c)(4) political nonprofit led by Strimling, who co-authors an opinion column for the Bangor Daily News in which he promoted a poll making Jackson’s primary case this past September.

Strimling said Wednesday that his nonprofit would continue to work with unions to advocate for the “working class issues” that Run Troy Run aimed to highlight, even though Jackson would not be a gubernatorial candidate this year.

“Troy Jackson, without question, is the elected official in the state who most cares about working people,” he said. “We were glad to get his name out there.”