Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Buoyed by the blue wave in 2006, Democrats now control every legislative chamber in New England. The wave, however, largely missed Maine, where Republicans gained a state senate seat to cut the Democrats' edge to 18-17.
So, if Republicans are going to regain a legislative foothold in a region that was once their home base, the Maine Senate, where all 35 seats are on the ballot, is probably the most likely place. Republicans are hoping that by focusing on taxes they can get the one seat they need.
The levy Republicans are focusing on most isn't a sales tax or a property tax or an income tax: It's a beverage tax. Due to a shortfall in funding for Dirigo, Maine's landmark law to expand access to health insurance, in March the legislature approved the tax on beer, wine and soft drinks. In the Senate, the vote was along party lines (Democrats in favor, Republicans opposed), although some Democratic candidates have voiced opposition to the idea.
Besides campaigning against the beverage tax, Republicans are arguing against Dirigo itself. "This is a plan that, so far, has failed in its promise and has been financial drain on the taxpayers in Maine," says Carol Weston the Republican leader in the Senate. "It has to be repealed."
Democrats, though, are optimistic about keeping their edge, citing organizational and enthusiasm advantages. Arden Manning, executive director of the Maine Democratic Party, says that his party's coordinated campaign has already made 1.25 million phone calls. Maine only has 1.3 million residents. "The message of the Obama campaign and our U.S. senate race is really permeating down to these state senate races in a way that we haven't seen before," Manning says.
Both sides are focusing on familiar ground. Republicans are targeting Peter Bowman, a first-term Democrat who represents the 1st district, located in Maine's Southern-most tip. Bowman's opponent? Mary Andrews, the former Republican senator who represented the 1st, but decided not to seek reelection in 2006.
Democrats have their eyes on the 19th district, based in Sagadahoc County, where Republican Paula Benoit, another first-termer, faces off with Democrat Seth Goodall. In 2006, Benoit snatched the seat away from a Democrat -- a former Republican who had switched parties.
No matter which party comes out ahead, the Senate will have a lot of new faces next year. Seven senators aren't seeking reelection, with six of them barred from another term due to term limits.
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