Elaine S. Povich is a GOVERNING contributor.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
With the “big dogs” in the race for the U.S. Senate seat from Maine scared off by the entry of former independent Gov. Angus King, the door has opened for state officers and legislators to get into the race.
While running against the popular King is an uphill battle, there may be other reasons to make the effort, according to Maine political observers, not the least of which is getting their names out there for future opportunities, just in case the Senate thing is not successful.
The seat opened up when Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, unexpectedly announced at the end of February that she would not run for a fourth term. Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud and former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci all scrambled to gather the required signatures for a run, then abruptly quit when King announced.
But that opened the door for a number of state lawmakers and officials who are still in the race, including six Republicans and three Democrats. On the Republican side, all three of Maine's constitutional officers: state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin of Georgetown, Attorney General William Schneider of Durham, and Secretary of State Charles Summers,of Scarborough, are running, as well as former Maine Senate President Rick Bennett of Oxford, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Debra Plowman of Hampden, and state Rep. Scott D'Amboise, a Tea Party favorite who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2006.
The Democratic primary also features candidates with statehouse experience, including former legislator and Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, state Sen. Cynthia Dill of Cape Elizabeth, and state Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland. Businessman Benjamin Pollard of Portland is also running in the June 12 primary.
While the Republicans are probably running for ideological reasons, the Democrats probably believe that King, though officially an independent, is in the driver’s seat.
“They will be gaining visibility for the future,” said Douglas Hodgkin, a retired Bates College professor and an expert on Maine politics. “They might find that they will be in a better position in future races because they made this effort and the visibility and gratitude of the party that they made this race.”
Felicia Knight, president of Knight Vision media consultants and a former press secretary for Republican Sen. Susan Collins, said there is a long tradition in Maine of credible candidates running against “well established politicians, against whom a race is futile,” but who had a desire to serve.
She noted that many of the Democrats got into the race before Snowe decided to retire, including Dunlop. “He’s not going to be scared by Angus King,” she said, adding that Hinck and Dill also got in early.
“These are all relatively young people, that could certainly be a motivation, for whom a race like this would increase their name recognition, endearing to them to the party for having stepped forward and giving the party a strong presence,” she said.
Among the Republicans, Hodgkin said Summers, Bennett and Schnieder are the strongest candidates. He said that Schneider may be considered a “fresher face” because Bennett and Summers already have run and lost a couple of races for Congress. But he also said the three could split the Republican vote and open the door to Amboise.
If that happens, Hodgkin said, “Republicans can kiss that seat goodbye. He has been doing a lot of groundwork and has a lot of enthusiastic support in the Tea Party wing of the party. Who knows what might happen?”
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