AUGUSTA – We’re kicking off the governor’s race column today with a photo that shows Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell and Sen. Peter Mills in a classic fighting stance.

The two veterans of Augusta politics could well be making their final bids for higher office this year. Democrat Mitchell, 69, and Republican Mills, 66, each face serious primary challenges within their own parties. Whether they make it out of their primaries will be decided by voters on June 8.

Mitchell, a former Speaker of the House, got into the race last August citing energy, education and health care as priorities.

She could have continued her Senate service and if Democrats retain control, most likely would have been Senate president for two more years.

Mills, who’s served 16 years in the Legislature, also announced his candidacy in August, saying “state government is broken.” He lost four years ago in the Republican primary to Chandler Woodcock and is making a run at it again this cycle.

The Democratic primary features a five-person slate that includes Mitchell, Steve Rowe, John Richardson, Patrick McGowan and Rosa Scarcelli. Democrats will also have the option of writing in Donna Dion.

Republican voters can choose Mills, Bill Beardsley, Steve Abbott, Bruce Poliquin, Matt Jacobson, Les Otten or Paul LePage.

Once we have nominees, the campaign for November begins. That ballot will likely feature at least one, and possibly more, independent candidates. We’ll know for sure on June 1 which of the unenrolled candidates has turned in the 4,000 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.

Candidates have begun to explain their positions on the issues, and one area of agreement is the importance of the race.

“This is probably the most important political year we will see in our adult lives,” McGowan said at a Thursday night forum.

RAISING MONEY

Candidates who are raising money for their campaigns have been sending out a bevy of fundraising appeals in the last week. Tuesday is the end of the next campaign finance reporting period, with the reports due to the state a week later.

Those reports will tell us a lot about where the privately financed candidates stand with just more than 40 days to go before the election.

When it comes to public financing, Mills, Mitchell and McGowan have all received at least $400,000 to fund their campaigns as part of the Clean Election system. The ethics commission is still reviewing a request for public financing from Richardson.

BEARDSLEY PUSHING RURAL MAINE

Beardsley is touting his appeal to the Red County Caucus, a group of Piscataquis County Republicans who will make an endorsement at the GOP convention in May.

Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, started the caucus after the 2008 election when Piscataquis had the distinction of being the only county in all of New England to support the McCain/Palin ticket. That’s 66 counties.

Their motto? “Don’t blame me, I’m from Piscataquis County.”

If you want to read more from Republican candidates about where they stand on a variety of issues — taxes, spending, health care, and gay marriage among them — check out the caucus website at RedCountyCaucus.com.

BANGOR DEBATES SET

The Bangor Region Chamber-Eaton Peabody gubernatorial debates are set for this Wednesday and May 3.

The Republicans are up first, with all seven saying they plan to attend. The debate is from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Eastern Maine Community College’s Rangeley Hall.

Democrats will get their chance May 3 from 6:30-8 p.m. at Husson University’s Gracie Theater.

You need tickets if you want to go to either event, so call the chamber at 947-0307.

OTTEN’S JOBS PLAN

Otten promises to unveil a “bold and detailed plan to create jobs and stimulate growth in the Maine economy” at a press event Tuesday. The announcement is scheduled for the Marriott Sable Oaks at 10:30 a.m.

CUTLER CALLS FOR SURVEY

Independent Eliot Cutler says if he were governor, he would send out a “taxpayer satisfaction survey” to be completed with income tax forms.

He said it would be a simple, one-page survey that could be completed online or on paper. According to a news release, the survey would “ask how taxpayers perceive the value of state programs and services, their thoughts on the way state dollars are allocated and spent and what their top priorities are for state spending.”

VOTING WITH DOLLARS

The Kennebec County Democratic Committee asked the audience at a forum last week to “vote with their dollars” by putting a buck or two — or more — into a plastic bucket labeled with each candidate’s name.

County Chairwoman Rita Moran later released these results: write-in Dion, $16; McGowan, $21; Mitchell, $73.50; Rowe, $120.50. Richardson and Scarcelli did not attend the forum.

Depending on what type of financing they are using, the Democrats were able to accept the money as a campaign contribution or donate it to a charity, Moran said.

LEPAGE THREATENS VETO

Waterville Mayor LePage, a Republican candidate for governor, says he’ll bring his leadership style from the Elm City to the State House if he wins the election.

Last week, LePage sent a veto letter to the Waterville City Council because the proposed budget included a tax increase.

“My concern is if the city increases its taxes without making some of the sacrifices that everyone is asked to make, we will delay the recovery and cause further hardships to our taxpayers,” he wrote.

TIRED ON THE TRAIL

For the 12 candidates who face a primary in June, it’s already been a long campaign season.

The work started in earnest in January and February with visits to caucuses and has continued in various morning and evening forums across the state.

Rowe said he was so tired when he got home one evening, he punched his ATM personal identification number into the microwave when trying to warm up a bowl of soup.

There are 50 days to go until the primary.