WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree was forthright last week when asked whether her June wedding to billionaire hedge fund manager Donald Sussman means she could pump a lot of personal money into her 2012 re-election campaign.
The answer, Pingree said, is yes. But more on that later.
It isn’t clear yet whether the 1st District Democrat will need her husband’s considerable wealth to help finance her bid for a third term.
There’s been talk that a GOP-controlled redistricting this year could make life in 2012 more difficult for Pingree and fellow Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud of the 2nd District — including rumors of plans that somehow put Pingree, of North Haven, and Michaud, of East Millinocket, in the same district.
But next year’s congressional races may not make the incumbents sweat any more than they did two years ago.
On the Senate race front, there is no evidence yet that three-term incumbent Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, will be sweating next year, either.
She’s raised a ton of cash — Snowe had more than $2.7 million on hand as of June 30 — in a campaign where her two tea party-aligned primary opponents seem marginal and Democrats seem to be basing much of their hope for a competitive race on Snowe being at least somewhat battered by a primary. Some Republicans have speculated that a bigger-name, more credible, conservative Republican will jump into the fray to take on Snowe.
But two Republicans who have been mentioned — former state Sen. Carol Weston and businessman Eric Cianchette, owner of the Portland Regency Hotel among other things — said last week that they won’t run.
Democrats Matt Dunlap of Old Town, a former Maine secretary of state, and state Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland are weighing bids, but no Democrat has yet actually jumped into the race.
An X factor in Maine’s federal races next year is President Obama’s re-election campaign, given that Obama won 58 percent of the Maine vote in 2008.
But aside from the presidential race and some tight state legislative contests, it is possible that Maine’s U.S. House and Senate races could be non-events next year, says Sandy Maisel, a government professor at Colby College.
“Olympia will be fine. I thought so all along,” Maisel said. And “both Michaud and Pingree will have solid support, independent of Obama. He might boost them.”
Both Pingree, a member of the liberal House Progressive Caucus, and Michaud, a member of the conservative Democratic House Blue Dog Caucus, won comfortably in 2010 during an otherwise bad year for Democrats in Maine and nationally.
Potentially formidable GOP opponents are considering bids — state Senate President Kevin Raye of Perry may take on Michaud and state Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney of Springvale is considering challenging Pingree.
But neither Pingree nor Michaud is on the lists of competitive races kept by the respected and nonpartisan Cook and Rothenberg political reports.
Christian Potholm, a government professor at Bowdoin College, said that he could see Raye giving Michaud a tough fight. It would be a second go-round between Raye and Michaud, who first won his seat in 2002 by beating Raye with 52 percent of the vote.
“Michaud is going to be hard to beat, but Kevin Raye is in a position to give him a tougher campaign than anyone since Michaud has been down there, including Kevin Raye the first time,” Potholm said, noting that Raye has legislative accomplishments to point to after four terms in the state Senate and rising to the top GOP leadership job.
And Raye, who can’t run for state Senate again because of term limits, will certainly go all-out if he runs, Potholm said. “When you run for a big office once and you lose, you only get one more bite of the apple.”
Pingree has proven a prolific fundraiser, raising more than $1.2 million for her 2010 campaign, when she handily beat Republican challenger Dean Scontras with 57 percent of the vote.
When she first won her congressional seat in 2008, with 55 percent of the vote, Pingree raised more than $2.2 million in all, including during a multi-candidate primary.
It’s not as if Sussman hasn’t already had a big financial impact on Pingree’s campaign bottom line.
Sussman and others at financial companies he owns, such as Paloma Partners, pumped nearly $180,000 into Pingree’s coffers during the 2008 and 2010 elections, according to the non-partisan campaign finance research organization Center for Responsive Politics.
But Pingree acknowledged that now, as Sussman’s wife, she would have access to much more cash in 2012. A candidate’s personal funds aren’t subject to federal campaign individual contribution limits.
“I am in a different position now that I am married to Donald, there’s no question about it,” Pingree said.
Pingree said in an interview outside the House chamber last week that she doesn’t think her husband’s money will be a factor in 2012.
“I have always been a pretty prolific fundraiser, so I am always prepared to raise as much money as I need to take on a challenger,” Pingree said, adding that she has “really no idea” whether she will need to put personal money into the race.
That’s something any potential Pingree opponent must be mulling over in deciding whether to get into the race.
MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at: