Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME-2), despite being the first person to begin circulating US Senate nominating petitions in the wake of Sen. Olympia Snowe’s (R) retirement announcement, said last night that he will not run statewide but is seeking re-election to his 2nd District House seat. According to high-level Democratic insiders, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1) will run for the Senate.
This is a surprising move since Michaud was quick to jump into the race and seemed to be the most committed of the potential Democratic candidates. But Pingree is far from home-free in the battle for the Senate nomination. Former Gov. John Baldacci, who spent four terms in the House before winning his statewide election in 2002, also has begun to circulate nominating petitions for the Snowe seat. His entry would mean a very expensive and potentially bloody Democratic contest.
Though the Republican field of candidates is slow to form, another possible candidate is lurking in the background and has the luxury of waiting. Independent former Gov. Angus King, who served as Maine’s chief executive for the eight years preceding Baldacci’s two terms in office, says he is seriously considering running. His advantage as an Independent candidate is not having to file until June. Currently, unless the legislature takes action on Gov. Paul LePage’s (R) suggestion to extend the filing deadline, the major party candidates must return their qualification papers by March 15. The extended period would give King ample time to determine the strength of both the Democratic and Republican candidates before making a final decision whether to become a candidate.
Another ramification from Michaud’s decision is that several other Democratic politicians may again have to reverse course. Former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap had announced his Senate candidacy long before Ms. Snowe decided not to run. When Michaud jumped at the open Senate seat, Dunlap immediately turned around and began circulating petition signatures in what he thought was an open 2nd Congressional District. State House Minority Leader Emily Cain (D), who ruled out a Senate run long ago, also jumped into the 2nd District race when she heard Michaud was vacating. Same for ex-state Sen. Bruce Bryant. With Michaud back in the House race, all of these individuals are placed in an uncomfortable political box.
Republicans began moving toward the 2nd District race, too. Kevin Raye, the state Senate president who lost to Michaud when the seat was last open in 2002, had already announced his congressional campaign even before the seat came open for two days. Speculation has been rampant, however, that he might declare for the Senate upon Snowe’s retirement decision. Michaud returning to the House race may lead to that eventuality for Raye. State Sen. Debra Plowman and 2010 nominee Jason Levesque also hopped into what they thought was an open House seat race. It remains to be seen how many of these Republican contenders stay in the congressional race, now that it is back to challenger status.
But the statewide race becomes all the more interesting with the latest developments. Michaud is a better fit for the state because he doesn’t take as extreme ideological positions as Pingree, the former national president of Common Cause. Should King enter as an Independent, and the Republicans field a viable candidate, such as Raye, perhaps, the general election takes on a whole different feel. King is truly independent, holding positions that at times are favorable to both Democrats and Republicans. He endorsed, for example, George W. Bush in 2000, but went with John Kerry in 2004. He followed with an endorsement of President Obama in 2008. Such a scenario would lead to a tight three-way campaign.
The developments during this past week has turned Maine politics on its head. While Democrats begin the open Senate race in the favorite’s position, Republicans are certainly viable, most likely in the person of state Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney, in Pingree’s open 1st District, though the seat leans decidedly Democratic. Still, Maine voters are known for their independent streak.
All of a sudden, what appeared to be a very quiet political year in the Pine Tree State is now anything but that.