AUGUSTA – Congressional campaigners in Kennebec County say they don’t believe the state redistricting changes taking effect with June’s primary election will have much impact at the ballot box.

“People in Maine don’t vote for the party; they vote for the person,” said Greg Olson, campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District. “Voters in Waterville aren’t much different from voters in Gardiner, Randolph or Monmouth.”

But according to voter rolls, they are.

The largest city affected by the district switch is Waterville, which is going from Michaud’s 2nd District to the 1st, now represented by Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree. Neighboring Winslow moved with Waterville. Combined, the two communities have 6,615 registered Democrats and 3,486 registered Republicans.

Eleven smaller county municipalities — Albion, Belgrade, Gardiner, Monmouth, Mount Vernon, Randolph, Rome, Sidney, Unity Township, Vienna and West Gardiner — moved from the 1st District to the 2nd. Excluding voters in Unity Township, which doesn’t maintain voter records, those communities have 6,245 registered Republicans and 5,928 registered Democrats.

SMALL BUSINESSES KEY

The change that affects only the 13 Kennebec County communities came in September after a nearly unanimous vote in the Legislature, when Gov. Paul LePage signed a compromise redistricting plan proposed by Democrats on the 15-member Advisory Apportionment Commission. Earlier proposals by both sides had been criticized as partisan.

Campaign managers for Michaud and Pingree said they have significant bases in their new pieces of Kennebec County.

Pingree “routinely has traveled from end to end in her district,” said Kate Simmons, Pingree’s campaign manager. “That will continue.”

Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, challenging Michaud in the 2nd District race, said he’ll be focused on “the importance of small business” while campaigning in Kennebec County.

“I don’t think the district’s boundaries have a real effect on campaign strategy,” Raye said. “Whether you’re in Kennebec County, Hancock County or Oxford County, small business is the backbone of the economy.”

State Sen. Jon Courtney, R-Springvale, is challenging Pingree in the 1st District. He said he was excited that his district picked up Waterville.

“I think Waterville has a lot of similarities with my hometown of Sanford,” he said. “It’s hardworking. It’s an old mill town.”

Like Raye, Courtney said he’ll have a laser focus on local small businesses.

“I want to go to every little town … not just the major ones,” he said. “We want to listen to Main Street.”

Raye said capital-area Republican legislators such as House Speaker Robert Nutting of Oakland, Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta and Sen. Earle McCormick of West Gardiner are helping him organize in Kennebec County communities.

“It’s enormously helpful as I travel around to have people who are respected leaders in their communities helping me,” Raye said. “All politics is local.”

PROS AND CONS WEIGHED

Sandy Maisel, a government professor at Colby College and a Democrat, said the Kennebec County redistricting wouldn’t change Maine’s political landscape much.

“Overall, I think it helps Pingree more than it hurts Michaud,” Maisel said of the shift by Waterville, a staunch Democratic city, into Pingree’s district.

In 2010, more than 62 percent of voters in Waterville and Winslow supported Michaud over Republican challenger Jason Levesque, who got just under 34 percent of the votes.

Philip Gonyar, a retired Waterville High School social studies teacher and a city Democrat, said many residents will notice the change of districts when the campaign season kicks into high gear. Waterville used to be in the 1st District, but in 2004 it was moved to the 2nd.

“I think there’s a little bit of a difference between the two of them politically, but not enough to concern me,” Gonyar said of Pingree and Michaud.

Michaud keeps an office on Main Street in Waterville. In a prepared statement, Willy Ritch, Pingree’s congressional spokesman, wrote that the congresswoman “intends to keep that office open if she’s fortunate enough to be re-elected.” Pingree has made a handful of campaign stops in Waterville in recent months.

Rita Moran, chairwoman of the Kennebec County Democratic Committee, said northern Kennebec County Democrats’ largest concern in redistricting was whether the Waterville field office would stay open.

“Once they understood that Rep. Pingree is committed to keeping that office open, they were happy,” she said. “People there really rely on it.”

As a more centrist Democrat than Pingree, Michaud stands to gain votes in the 11 communities that switched to the 2nd District, Maisel said.

“He will pick up votes (Pingree) never got in rural Kennebec County,” Maisel said. “He is sort of the quintessential man of the people.”

Outcomes in West Gardiner and Gardiner are typically harder to predict than in Waterville and Winslow. In 2010, Pingree carried Gardiner with roughly 54 percent of the vote, but lost West Gardiner by 25 votes to Republican challenger Dean Scontras.

Belgrade resident Gayle Finkbeiner, who was a Kennebec County Republican state committeeman from 2010 until the party’s state convention last weekend, said Pingree shouldn’t lose her seat in the 1st District, because she’s well-funded and well-organized with a solid liberal base in southern Maine.

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, a financier and frequent Democratic donor who is a majority share owner of MaineToday Media, which owns the Morning Sentinel, the Kennebec Journal and the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram and other media outlets in Maine.

In 2010, Republican LePage won Aroostook and Penobscot counties, which former Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, carried in 2006.

To win the 2nd District seat, Finkbeiner said Raye or his primary opponent, Blaine Richardson of Belfast, should look to LePage’s successful northern strategy.

“I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone that follows Maine politics that the 2nd District has been a little more conservative,” Finkbeiner said. “If I’m a Republican strategist, I’d look to the LePage campaign.”

Moran, the Kennebec County Democratic chairwoman, said county politics weren’t much changed by redistricting.

“A blue-collar town’s a blue-collar town,” she said. 

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Michael Shepherd can be reached at 621-5632 or at:

[email protected]