AUGUSTA – With a recount pending in one district and several competitive races shaping up across the state, the Maine Senate will be the legislative chamber to watch this fall.

Tuesday’s primary set the field in most areas, but in Senate District 1 — Eliot, Kittery, Ogunquit, South Berwick and York — only two votes separated Republicans Sally Lewin of Eliot and Michael Estes of York.

A recount could be held as early as this week, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Despite eight years of service in the House, Lewin faced a strong challenge from Estes, chairman of the York selectmen and a local business owner.

“The numbers never looked good, and there were a lot of people who didn’t think I stood a snowball’s chance in a hot place,” Lewin said.

The winner of the Republican primary will face Rep. Dawn Hill, D-York, in the fall.

Senate Majority Leader Phil Bartlett, D-Gorham, identified a handful of races that Democrats expect to be competitive.

He said that with 16 incumbents, Democrats believe they can build from a strong base to keep — and possibly expand — their current 20-15 majority.

“We think we’re well-positioned to take all 16,” he said.

One of those incumbents is Sen. Deborah Simpson, D-Auburn, who faces a challenge from former Sen. Lois Snowe-Mello, R-Poland.

Simpson defeated Snowe-Mello in 2008 by only 104 votes out of more than 20,000 cast.

“Deb’s race, we’re obviously paying close attention to,” Bartlett said. “It’s a rematch.”

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Jon Courtney, R-Springvale, also identified that race, saying Snowe-Mello “has an excellent opportunity to unseat Deb Simpson.”

Courtney said Republicans are particularly encouraged by the Question 1 results from Tuesday, when voters rejected a Democratic-backed tax reform package with 61 percent of the vote.

In particular, he thinks the race between House Majority Leader John Piotti, D-Unity, and Rep. Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, will be hot. The Senate District 23 seat, representing 27 towns in Waldo County, is open.

Piotti was a key player on the tax reform package, and Courtney thinks that will hurt him.

“Rep. Piotti didn’t even win his hometown (on Question 1), which shows he’s out of touch,” Courtney said.

Maine Republicans have been touting a successful recruiting year that they believe will help them take control of the Senate for the first time since a 17-17 split, with one independent, forced a power-sharing agreement with Democrats in 2001.

Courtney said districts normally thought to be out of reach for Republicans — such as Biddeford and South Portland — have strong GOP candidates.

In Biddeford, Dr. Owen Pickus, an attorney, a physician and a professor at the University of New England’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, is challenging Sen. Nancy Sullivan. In South Portland, radio personality and restaurateur Joseph Palmieri is taking on Sen. Larry Bliss.

“We’re pretty excited,” Courtney said. “We’ve got top-quality candidates.”

One other race to watch will be in central Maine, where two well-known candidates will compete for the seat being vacated by Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell, D-Vassalboro. Mitchell is the Democratic nominee for governor.

Rep. Patsy Crockett, D-Augusta, will face Augusta Mayor Roger Katz, a Republican.

“That’s going to be a hotly contested seat,” Bartlett said. “It’s not a gimmie for anybody.”

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted 620-7015 or at:

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