That loud rumble heard Wednesday was Maine’s political landscape beginning a once-in-a-generation shake-up.
U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s announcement Tuesday that she will not seek re-election set off political shock waves because she was considered a virtual lock for a fourth term — and as she ran and won, she held politicians farther down the ladder in place.
“Everyone else’s ambition for higher office is conditional on when that person decides to retire,” said John Baughman, a political science professor at Bates College in Lewiston. With Snowe stepping aside, “you’re going to have a chain reaction going down to the state Legislature and maybe beyond.”
That chain reaction started with Snowe’s surprise statement late Tuesday, but aspiring candidates had to wait until Wednesday morning, when the Secretary of State Office’s doors were unlocked and nominating petitions could be taken out.
Petitions — bearing 2,000 voter signatures for Senate candidates and 1,000 for House candidates — are due by the close of business March 15 for anyone who wants to run in a party primary June 12, so there isn’t much time to weigh pros and cons.
One of the first to get petitions Wednesday was Democrat Mike Michaud, who since 2003 has represented Maine’s 2nd Congressional District — the district Snowe represented for 16 years until she won her Senate seat.
Michaud sent a campaign worker to get petition papers before 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Then came candidates seeking Michaud’s seat, followed by candidates who assumed that Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree would give up her 1st District seat to run for the Senate.
Pingree herself waited until midafternoon. She said she hasn’t made up her mind, but is “definitely leaning toward” running for the Senate, so she got petitions to keep her options open. She will make her final decision this weekend, she said.
A group of Moveon.org activists delivered a petition to Pingree’s campaign headquarters in Portland, calling on her to accept a “draft” for the Senate. They left with papers to begin gathering signatures to get her in the Democratic primary, should she follow her leaning.
Pingree’s husband, S. Donald Sussman, is a financier, philanthropist and frequent Democratic donor who recently purchased a 5 percent equity stake in MaineToday Media through Maine Values LLC.
MaineToday Media owns and operates The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and other media outlets in Maine.
Former Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat who also served four terms in the U.S. House, took out papers for the Senate seat Wednesday afternoon. Former Gov. Angus King said he’s considering running as an independent, which would give him until June to submit signatures.
Eliot Cutler, an independent gubernatorial candidate in 2010, said he’s considering a run for Senate, also as an independent.
Also in the changing picture were candidates who had planned to run in the Democratic primary for the nomination to challenge Snowe in November.
State Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, knew his race had changed when Snowe put out her statement Tuesday.
“As soon as the person considered to be unbeatable was gone,” Hinck said, he knew that “every person with a long political resume would jump in.”
Hinck decided to take out papers for Pingree’s 1st District House seat. So did state Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, who in January had declared herself a candidate for Snowe’s seat.
“Now the (Senate) field is flooded with people with significant resources,” Dill said, so, like Hinck, she’ll run for the House if Pingree tries for the Senate.
Former Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and Benjamin Pollard, a home builder from Portland, did not say Wednesday whether they will stay in the suddenly crowded Democratic primary for the Senate seat.
Scott D’Amboise of Lisbon Falls, who was Snowe’s lone Republican primary challenger, had at least one day to consider himself the presumptive nominee. He marked it with an interview on Fox News in which he said Snowe had proven to be not conservative enough.
Pingree has the largest group of politicians hoping she’ll leave her House seat to run for the Senate.
In addition to Dill and Hinck, Democrats who took out nominating papers for the 1st District seat were David Costa, a Portland hotel concierge who has made one unsuccessful run for Portland City Council; David Lamoine, a former state treasurer; and Wellington Lyons, a lawyer who’s an official with the League of Young Voters.
Republicans who are interested in Pingree’s seat are state Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney of Springvale and Markham Gartley, a former secretary of state who once ran against Snowe when she was in the House and he was a Democrat.
In the 2nd District, Michaud’s seat is being eyed by Democrats Bruce Bryant, a former state senator, and state House Minority Leader Emily Cain.
Republican Debra Plowman, the assistant state Senate majority leader, also has taken out papers to run for the U.S. House.
State Senate President Kevin Raye, who had declared himself a candidate for Michaud’s seat, now is considered likely to join the Senate race in the next few days.
In addition, the national parties have assembled lists of Mainers who are potential candidates now that Snowe is out of the race, said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington.
The national Democrats’ list includes Pingree, Michaud and Baldacci, as well as Pingree’s daughter Hannah, a former Maine House Speaker, and former U.S. Rep. Tom Allen.
The national Republicans’ list includes Raye, University of Maine athletic director and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Steve Abbott, businessman and former Ambassador to Costa Rica Peter Cianchette, Attorney General William Schneider, Secretary of State Charlie Summers and former Maine House GOP leader Josh Tardy.
Duffy said that while Democrats had assembled an early wish list to run against Snowe, Republicans were so taken by surprise that “this is all pretty new to them’ Republicans never contemplated (Snowe’s) retirement,” Duffy said.
In all, it’s the biggest shuffle in Maine politics since Democrat George Mitchell decided to retire from the Senate in 1994. That led to Snowe running for Senate against Tom Andrews, the Democrat who represented the 1st Congressional District.
Snowe’s win allowed Baldacci to capture a seat in Congress. Baldacci was succeeded by Michaud when Baldacci ran for governor in 2002.
In the 1st District that year, James Longley Jr. was swept in with the Republican Revolution of 1994. He was gone two years later, replaced by Tom Allen. Pingree succeeded Allen in 2009.
Just as Snowe’s election to the Senate turned a safe Democratic seat Republican, Baughman thinks the seat could return to the Democrats this fall.
National observers are still chewing over Snowe’s surprise decision and haven’t turned their focus to the upcoming races and how they might alter Maine’s political landscape.
“Democrats have been too busy dancing in the streets after Snowe’s announcement” to think about that, said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.
This story was updated at 9:35 a.m. March 1 to correct the spelling of Jon Courtney’s name.
MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind contributed to this report.
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: